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Does the motor system contribute to the perception and understanding of actions? Reflections on Gregory Hickok’s The myth of mirror neurons: the real neuroscience of communication and cognition


It has been said that mirror neurons are “the most hyped concept in neuroscience” (Jarrett, 2012). In his book The myth of mirror neurons: the real neuroscience of communication and cognition (2014), Gregory Hickok does the field a great service by cutting through this hype and showing that, contrary to the views of many laypeople as well as some experts, mirror neurons are not the fundamental ‘basis’ of action understanding. I argue here, however, that he takes his critique too far by effectively denying that the motor system plays any significant role at all in the perception and interpretation of actions. In fact, a large literature strongly supports the hypothesis that motor regions in the frontal and parietal lobes not only subserve the execution of actions, but also contribute to the comprehension of actions, regardless of whether they are directly observed or linguistically represented. In addition, recent research suggests that although the articulatory system is involved primarily in speech production, it enhances speech perception too, even when the auditory stimuli are not explicitly attended.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: David Kemmerer, Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, Lyles-Porter Hall, Purdue University, 715 Clinic Drive, West Lafayette, IN 47907. tel: (765) 494-3826; e-mail:
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