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The mirror neuron system as revealed through neonatal imitation: presence from birth, predictive power, and evidence of plasticity

Simpson, E. A., Murray, L., Paukner, A. and Ferrari, P. F. (2014) The mirror neuron system as revealed through neonatal imitation: presence from birth, predictive power, and evidence of plasticity. Philsophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 369 (1644). pp. 1471-2970. ISSN 1471-2970

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2013.0289


There is strong evidence that neonates imitate previously unseen behaviors. These behaviors are predominantly used in social interactions, demonstrating neonates’ ability and motivation to engage with others. Research on neonatal imitation can provide a wealth of information about the early mirror neuron system (MNS): namely, its functional characteristics, its plasticity from birth, and its relation to skills later in development. Though numerous studies document the existence of neonatal imitation in the laboratory, little is known about its natural occurrence during parent-infant interactions and its plasticity as a consequence of experience. We review these critical aspects of imitation, which we argue are necessary for understanding the early action-perception system. We address common criticisms and misunderstandings about neonatal imitation and discuss methodological differences among studies. Recent work reveals that individual differences in neonatal imitation positively correlate with later social, cognitive, and motor development. We propose that such variation in neonatal imitation could reflect important individual differences of the MNS. Although postnatal experience is not necessary for imitation, we present evidence that neonatal imitation is influenced by experience in the first week of life.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Psychology
Interdisciplinary centres and themes > Winnicott
ID Code:36545
Publisher:Royal Society


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