Mirror neurons through the lens of epigenetics

Pier F. Ferrari, Antonella Tramacere, Elizabeth A. Simpson, Atsushi Iriki

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

47 Scopus citations


The consensus view in mirror neuron research is that mirror neurons comprise a uniform, stable execution-observation matching system. In this opinion article, we argue that, in light of recent evidence, this is at best an incomplete and oversimplified view of mirror neurons, where activity is actually variable and more plastic than previously theorized. We propose an epigenetic account for understanding developmental changes in sensorimotor systems, including variations in mirror neuron activity. Although associative and genetic accounts fail to consider the complexity of genetic and nongenetic interactions, we propose a new evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) perspective, which predicts that environmental differences early in development should produce variations in mirror neuron response patterns, tuning them to the social environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)450-457
Number of pages8
JournalTrends in Cognitive Sciences
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2013


  • Development
  • Epigenetics
  • Mirror neurons
  • Neonatal imitation
  • Plasticity
  • Sensorimotor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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