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Mirror Neuron System, Imitation and Empathy in Autism

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Sheena Brevig

on 11 April 2014

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Transcript of Mirror Neuron System, Imitation and Empathy in Autism

Mirror neuron system & Autism:
Mimicry and Empathy

Broken Mirror Neuron Theory
Mirror neurons are said to be important in imitation and therefore social interaction, comprehending another’s goals/intentions, and empathizing
Autism = behavioral and social deficits,
“Broken mirror(s)” theory was born. (Iacoboni, 2009).
The MNS was originally discovered in macaque monkeys:
Areas homologous to the human brain’s Brodmann area 44, aka Broca’s area,
recognized as important in language development (Wan et al., 2010).
Anterior intraparietal sulcus & inferior parietal cortex
→ understanding
of peoples actions

More impairment in examining negative emotions vs positive
subtle emotions
emotion blends
complex emotions
emotions in only part of the face,
emotions presented for short durations

Autism and Emotion
Involuntary Mimicry
Voluntary Mimicry
Experiment 1:
25 children with independent clinical diagnosis of autism or ASD from schools that specialized in education for children with autism.

Matched in verbal mental age (VMA) with typical children from local preschools and nursery schools.
Hamilton et al. (2007)
a. Main task: "Do what I do"
i. placing hand on table
ii. covering the dots

Ipsilateral movements were more accurately imitated, whereas there were significantly more errors made with the contralateral movement.

This was the
for both ASD and control groups.

The ASD children showed goal-directed imitation at the expected level for their VMA, which implies that the ASD children did not have a deficit in either motor imitation or understanding the goals and intentions of the experimenter (Hamilton et al., 2007).

When the dots were present:
Changed the perceived goal of the experimenter,
1 executing a movement
2 covering one of two dots
Experiment 2
Same cover story, the confederate either mimicked postures and gestures of the participant or kept a neutral pose

Then, the participant was given a survey of how pleasant they found the other “participant.”

Humans tend to like those who imitate them, and we imitate unconsciously, which plays a significant role in social interaction and relating to other people.

An impairment in this area could make people seem unsociable and have difficulty connecting with others.
Emotion Comprehension
1st round:
Involuntary Mimicry
facial muscle movements recorded by electromyogram (EMG)
watch a screen that randomly showed happy and sad faces,
2nd experiment:
Voluntary Mimicry
the process was repeated but they were asked to match the facial expression they saw.
Chameleon Effect
a. Newborns: tongue protrusion, scrunching face, opening mouth
b. Adults: postures, small gestures, speech patterns
Chartrand & Bard (1997)
i. Confederate either shake their leg or rub their face a significant amount during the experiment.

iii. They controlled for conscious imitation with various questionnaires post-experiment, asking the participants if they noticed anything significant about the other participant or their behavior

Involuntary Mimicry in Autism
McIntosh et al. (2006)
14 (3 female 11 male) ASD individuals
14 typically developing individuals:
matched in gender
verbal ability
between 1-2 years of age.
Their results showed that ASD individuals did not
mimic the facial expressions while their control counter parts did, while on the other hand that there was no deficit in voluntary mimicry between the groups.
A significant impairment in the ASD population: affects social skill development and emotion understanding in others.

A deficit in the part of the MNS that is significant to
involuntary mimicry
could be an underlying cause to these social impairments.
MNS is flexible:
-we learn from experience
-MNS fire more when we observe an action we're familiar with.
Gustaf Gredebäck (2010). The Mirror Neuron System. [Video file].
1.) at a young age involuntary imitation is lacking
=> Chameleon Effect
2) the MNS is not functioning correctly
3) don't get experience dependent firing for social interactions
Sound familiar??
a. through vocal intonation
i. monotonous
ii. flat
iii. abnormally modulated
b. mimicked facial expressions
i. unnatrual/bizarre

Autism and impairment in
35 students from NYU psychology course.

Participated in "pairs."
Cover story
: Participants were asked to take turns describing pictures of faces.

Their body language and facial expressions were being recorded and coded.
Results: those with leg shakers shook their legs more and vice versa with face rubbers.
Results: Those who were imitated reported liking their co-participant more than those who were not imitated.
An fMRI study of imitation and observation of facial expressions:
Found a deficit in mirror neuron areas in the ASD children
A correlation: The lower the activity in mirror neuron areas, the more severe the autism (Dapretto et al. 2006).

Broken Mirror
"These results provide clear evidence against a general imitation impairment and a global mirror neuron system deficit in children with autism." -Hamilton et al. (2007)
Different MN firing rates dependent on familiarity with executing the actions in the pictures.
Feedback cycle that reinforces neuronal activity and, therefore, behavior that can result in impairment of social skills, as seen associated with autism.
Chartrand TL, Bargh JA. 1999. The chameleon effect: the perception-behavior link and social interaction. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol. 76:893–910
Dinstein, I. (2008). Human cortex: reflections of mirror neurons. Curr. Biol. 18, R956–R959.
Dapretto M, Davies MS, Pfeifer JH, Scott AA, Sigman M, et al. (2006). Understanding emotions in others: mirror neuron dysfunction in children with autism spectrum disorders. Nat. Neurosci.9:28–30
Hamilton AFD, Brindley RM, Frith U. (2007) Imitation and action understanding in autistic spectrum disorders: how valid is the hypothesis of a deficit in the mirror neuron system? Neuropsychologia ;45:1859–1868. [PubMed: 17234218]
Hamilton, A. F., & Grafton, S. T. (2006). Goal representation in human anterior intraparietal sulcus. Journal of Neuroscience, 26, 1133–1137.
Green, H., & Tobin, Y. (2009). Prosodic analysis is difficult . . . but worth it: A study in high functioning autism. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 11(4), 308_315. doi:10.1080/ 17549500903003060
Iacoboni, M., 2009. Imitation, empathy and mirror neurons. Annual Review of Psychology 60, 653–670
Macdonald, H., Rutter, M., Howlin, P., Rios, P., Conteur, A., Evered, C., & Folstein, S. (1989). Recognition and expression of emotional cues by autistic and normal adults. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 30(6), 865_877. doi:10.1111/j.1469- 7610.1989.tb00288.x
McIntosh, D., Reichmann-Decker, A., Winkielman, P., & Wilbarger, J. (2006). When the social mirror breaks: Deficits in automatic, but not voluntary, mimicry of emotional facial expressions in autism. Developmental Science, 9(3), 295_302. doi:10.1111/ j.1467-7687.2006.00492.x
Nuske HJ, Vivanti G, Dissanayake C (2013) Are emotion impairments unique to, universal, or specific in autism spectrum disorder? A comprehensive review. Cogn Emot 27(6):1042–1061
Oberman, L. M., & Ramachandran, V. S. The Simulating Social Mind: The Role of the Mirror Neuron System and Simulation in the Social and Communicative Deficits of Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Pouw L. B., Rieffe C., Oosterveld P., Huskens B., Stockmann L. (2013).Reactive/proactive aggression and affective/cognitive empathy in children with ASD.Res. Dev. Disabil. 34, 12561266.10.1016/j.ridd.2012.12.022
Press C, Gillmeister H, Heyes C. 2007. Sensorimotor experience enhances automatic imitation of robotic action. Proc. Biol. Sci. 274:2639–44
Wallace, G., Case, L., Harms, M., Silvers, J., Kenworthy, L., & Martin, A. (2011). Diminished sensitivity to sad facial expressions in high functioning autism spectrum disorders is associated with symptomatology and adaptive functioning. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41(11), 1475_ 1486. doi:10.1007/s10803-010-1170-
Wan CY, Demaine K, Zipse L, Norton A, Schlaug G. (2010). From music making to speaking: engaging the mirror neuron system in autism. Brain Res Bull 82:161–8.

Help us recognize and predict the actions of others.

A way to code observed actions into our own motor system.
1/3 are "strictly congruent" - always fire for exact action

2/3 are "broadly congruent" - fire when executed and observed actions aren't the same but similar and achieve same goal.
Mirror Neurons
"Though these empathic mirroring systems might
have a role in autism, we will not discuss them here. Instead, we focus solely on the motor MNS which was first discovered in macaque monkeys.”
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