Neuro Humanities Studies

Leonardo Fogassi, Pier Francesco Ferrari,

Mirror Neurons and the Evolution of Embodied Language

Year: 2007
Topics: Cognition;
Disciplines: Anthropology; Linguistics;

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Mirror neurons are a class of neurons first discovered in the monkey premotor cortex that activate both when the monkey executes an action and when it observes the same action made by another individual. These neurons enable individuals to understand actions performed by others. Two subcategories of mirror neurons in monkeys activate when they listen to action sounds and when they observe communicative gestures made by others, respectively. The properties of mirror neurons could constitute a substrate from which more sophisticated forms of communication evolved; this would make sense, given the anatomical and functional homology between part of the monkey premotor cortex and Broca's area (the 'speech' area of the brain) in humans. We hypothesize that several components of human language, including some aspects of phonology and syntax, could be embedded in the organizational properties of the motor system and that a deeper knowledge of this system could shed light on how language evolved.


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