Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Mirror neuron system functions normally in individuals with autism

Date:
May 13, 2010
Source:
New York University
Summary:
Neuroscientists have found that the mirror neuron system, which is thought to play a central role in social communications, responds normally in individuals with autism. Their findings counter theories suggesting that a mirror system dysfunction causes the social difficulties exhibited by individuals with autism.

A team of neuroscientists has found that the mirror neuron system, which is thought to play a central role in social communications, responds normally in individuals with autism. Their findings, reported in the journal Neuron, counter theories suggesting that a mirror system dysfunction causes the social difficulties exhibited by individuals with autism.

Related Articles


The mirror neuron system, the focal point of the Neuron study, is composed of two brain areas, which have a unique characteristic -- they are active both when we execute movements (e.g. grasping a cup of coffee) and when we passively observe other people executing those same movements. It has been known for many years that these brain areas are important for proper motor control because trauma to these areas causes movement deficits. Yet it has only recently been discovered that these brain areas respond when passively observing others. It has been proposed that this activity represents a process of "movement simulation" that enables us to understand the meanings and the goals of movements we observe.

For the simulation process to work properly, it is imperative that we simulate the exact same movement we are observing. This means that neurons within our mirror system must recognize movements and respond with a unique, movement-selective, response to each (or else we'll confuse different movements and attribute improper goals to the person we're observing).

Because individuals with autism have difficulty communicating socially and understanding the emotions and intentions of others, it has been hypothesized that they may have a dysfunction in their mirror neuron system. This hypothesis has received a tremendous amount of attention in both the popular and scientific literatures following a number of studies that reported weak mirror neuron system responses in individuals with autism. The issue of movement-selectivity, however, had not been addressed in these studies.

To further test this influential theory, the researchers asked individuals with autism and a control group to observe and execute different hand movements while being scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The fMRI measurements allowed the researchers to infer the strength of neural responses in mirror system areas of each group during movement observation and execution. Their results showed that mirror system areas of individuals with autism not only responded strongly during movement observation, but did so in a movement-selective manner such that different movements exhibited unique neural responses. The mirror system responses of individuals with autism were, therefore, equivalent to those commonly reported (and observed here) for controls.

These results, they conclude, argue strongly against the "dysfunctional mirror system hypothesis of autism" because they show that mirror system areas respond normally in individuals with autism. The authors, therefore, suggest that it may be more productive to re-focus autism research in more promising directions.

The study's co-authors are: Ilan Dinstein, a former graduate student at New York University and now a postdoctoral fellow at the Weizmann Institute in Israel; Cibu Thomas, Kate Humphreys, and Marlene Behrmann from Carnegie Mellon University; Nancy Minshew from the University of Pittsburgh; and David Heeger from New York University.

The study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, Cure Autism Now, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by New York University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Dinstein et al. Cognition | Does Autism Reflect Mirror Neurons? Neuron, Volume 66, Issue 3, 461-469, 13 May 2010 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.03.034

Cite This Page:

New York University. "Mirror neuron system functions normally in individuals with autism." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 May 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100512125219.htm>.
New York University. (2010, May 13). Mirror neuron system functions normally in individuals with autism. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 29, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100512125219.htm
New York University. "Mirror neuron system functions normally in individuals with autism." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100512125219.htm (accessed January 29, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

City Divided: A Look at Model Schools in the TDSB

City Divided: A Look at Model Schools in the TDSB

The Toronto Star (Jan. 27, 2015) Model schools are rethinking how they engage with the community to help enhance the lives of the students and their parents. Video provided by The Toronto Star
Powered by NewsLook.com
Man Saves Pennies For 65 Years

Man Saves Pennies For 65 Years

Rooftop Comedy (Jan. 26, 2015) A man in Texas saved every penny he found for 65 years, and this week he finally cashed them in. Bank tellers at Prosperity Bank in Slaton, Texas were shocked when Ira Keys arrived at their bank with over 500 pounds of loose pennies stored in coffee cans. After more than an hour of sorting and counting, it turned out the 81 year-old was in possession of 81,600 pennies, or $816. And he&apos;s got more at home! Video provided by Rooftop Comedy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Technology Is Ruining Snow Days For Students

How Technology Is Ruining Snow Days For Students

Newsy (Jan. 25, 2015) More schools are using online classes to keep from losing time to snow days, but it only works if students have Internet access at home. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Weird Things Couples Do When They Lose Their Phone

Weird Things Couples Do When They Lose Their Phone

BuzzFeed (Jan. 24, 2015) Did you back it up? Do you even know how to do that? Video provided by BuzzFeed
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins