From Scientific American Blog Network:
In the early 1990s, a team of neuroscientists at the University of Parma made a surprising discovery: Certain groups of neurons in the brains of macaque monkeys fired not only when a monkey performed an action - grabbing an apple out of a box, for instance - but also when the monkey watched someone else performing that action; and even when the monkey heard someone performing the action in another room. In short, even though these "mirror neurons" were part of the brain's motor system, they seemed to be correlated not with specific movements, but with specific goals. Over the next few decades, this "action understanding" theory of mirror neurons blossomed into a wide range of promising speculations. Since most of us think of goals as more abstract than movements, mirror neurons confront us with the distinct possibility that those everyday categories may be missing crucial pieces of the puzzle - thus, some scientists propose that mirror neurons might be involved in feelings of empathy, while others think these cells may play central roles in human abilities like speech.... One of the first scientists to question the "action understanding" hypothesis was UC Irvine's Greg Hickok. Though Hickok doesn't dispute the existence of mirror neurons, he's highly skeptical about their supposed central role in empathy, speech, autism and understanding - and he's spent the past 10 years publishing research regarding those doubts.

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