Mirror Neurons Again – Brain Activation in Linguistic Processing (Meister & Iacoboni, 2007)

This neat little paper adds more fuel to a mirror neuron based account of language evolution. This study showed that the brain responded the same to both linguistic and perceptual processing of stimuli. Subjects were presented with identical video stimuli and asked to perform both linguistic and perceptual tasks, whilst having an fMRI scan. The results showed almost identical patterns of stimulation despite the tasks engaging perceptual and linguistic responses separately. The authors of the paper claim this adds fuel to the argument that mirror neurons were exapted from action-execution systems, into use for language.

It seems increasingly likely that the visual cognitive systems play a larger part in the preadaptations for language than some linguistic accounts have traditionally recognized. I still agree with Jim Hurford’s claim however, that this stage doesn’t account for the basis of language. Mirror neurons don’t help us understand how we crossed the symbolic barrier into a system of arbitrary meanings attached to utterances. I am prepared to buy however, the idea that the motorcortical action-execution system is the most likely first step towards the evolution of the language faculty.

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September 2007
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