Mirror neurons and the understanding of behavioural symptoms in psychiatric disorders

Giovanni Buccino, Mario Amore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Recent findings show that we can understand other people's actions, intentions and emotions through a mirror mechanism as if we performed the same actions and felt the same intentions or emotions (embodied simulation). The present paper reviews experimental evidence that this mechanism may be broken in some psychiatric disorders. RECENT FINDINGS: A mirror neuron system has been described in both monkeys and humans that allows one to map an observed action on a correspondent motor representation in the observer's brain. This mechanism has been involved in many higher motor functions ranging from action understanding to imitation and intention coding. A mirror mechanism has also been invoked in empathy, through an embodied simulation. SUMMARY: A dysfunction of the mirror neuron system may be at the root of the inability to empathize in patients with autism and may play a role in some negative and positive symptoms found in patients with schizophrenia. This opens up new perspectives in the interpretation of psychotic symptoms and possibly in developing therapeutic strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-285
Number of pages5
JournalCurrent Opinion in Psychiatry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2008


  • Autism
  • Empathy
  • Mirror neuron system
  • Schizophrenia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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