镜像神经元是当个体执行动作时以及当他们观察到执行相同动作的其他人时触发的神经元，例如伸手可及。这些神经元会响应其他人的行为，就像你自己在做这件事一样。这种反应不仅限于视力。当个体知道或听到其他人执行类似动作时，镜像神经元也会发射。并不总是清楚“相同的动作”是什么意思。镜像神经元是否代表与动作本身相对应的动作（你以某种方式移动你的肌肉以获取食物），或者，它们是否对更抽象的东西做出反应，个人正试图通过运动来实现（抓食物）？事实证明，存在不同类型的镜像神经元，它们对它们的反应不同。仅当镜像动作与执行的动作相同时，严格一致的镜像神经元才会触发 – 因此两种情况下的目标和运动都是相同的。当镜像动作的目标与执行的动作相同时，广泛一致的镜像神经元会触发，但这两个动作本身并不一定相同。例如，您可以用手或嘴抓住物体。总而言之，严格一致且广泛一致的镜像神经元，在引入这些分类的研究中共同构成超过90％的镜像神经元，代表了其他人所做的事情，以及他们是如何做到的。其他非一致的镜像神经元似乎在乍一看表现和观察到的动作之间没有明显的相关性。例如，当您抓住物体并看到其他人将该物体放置在某处时，这样的镜像神经元可以触发。因此，这些神经元可以在更抽象的水平上被激活。镜像神经元进化的方式和原因有两个主要假设。适应性假设认为猴子和人类 – 以及可能还有其他动物 – 天生就有镜像神经元。在这个假设中，镜像神经元通过自然选择产生，使个体能够理解他人的行为。联想学习假设断言镜像神经元来自经验。当您学习动作并看到其他人执行类似动作时，您的大脑会学习将两个事件联系在一起。镜像神经元最初是在1992年描述的，当时由Giacomo Rizzolatti领导的一组神经科学家记录了猕猴大脑中单个神经元的活动，并发现当猴子进行某些动作时，例如抓食物，以及当他们观察时，同样的神经元都会发射实验者执行同样的动作。 Rizzolatti的发现在前运动皮层中发现了镜像神经元，这是大脑的一部分，有助于计划和执行运动。随后的研究还对下顶叶皮层进行了大量研究，这有助于编码视觉运动。还有其他论文描述了其他领域的镜像神经元，包括内侧额叶皮层，这已被公认为对社会认知很重要。人类中的镜像神经元在许多关于猴子大脑的研究中，包括Rizzolatti的初步研究和其他涉及镜像神经元的研究，通过将电极插入大脑并测量电活动来直接记录大脑活动。这项技术并未用于许多人体研究中。然而，一项镜像神经元研究在术前评估期间直接探测了癫痫患者的大脑。科学家在内侧额叶和内侧颞叶中发现了潜在的镜像神经元，这有助于编码记忆。
Mirror neurons are neurons that fire both when an individual performs an action and when they observe someone else performing that same action, such as reaching for a lever. These neurons respond to someone else’s action just as if you yourself were doing it. This response is not restricted to sight. Mirror neurons can also fire when an individual knows or hears someone else performing a similar action. It’s not always clear what’s meant by “the same action.” Do mirror neurons code actions corresponding to the movement itself (you move your muscles a certain way to grab food), or, are they responsive to something more abstract, the goal that the individual is trying to achieve with the movement (grabbing food)? It turns out that there are different types of mirror neurons, which differ in what they respond to. Strictly congruent mirror neurons fire only when the mirrored action is identical to the performed action—so both the goal and the movement are the same for both cases. Broadly congruent mirror neurons fire when the goal of the mirrored action is the same as the performed action’s, but the two actions themselves are not necessarily identical. For example, you can grab an object with your hand or your mouth. Taken together, strictly congruent and broadly congruent mirror neurons, which together comprised more than 90 percent of the mirror neurons in the study that introduced these classifications, represent what someone else did, and how they did it. Other, non-congruent mirror neurons don’t seem to exhibit a clear correlation between the performed and observed actions at first glance. Such mirror neurons may, for instance, fire both when you grasp an object and see someone else placing that object somewhere. These neurons could thus be activated at an even more abstract level. There are two main hypotheses for how and why mirror neurons evolved. The adaptation hypothesis states that monkeys and humans—and possibly other animals as well—are born with mirror neurons. In this hypothesis, mirror neurons came about through natural selection, enabling individuals to understand the actions of others. The associative learning hypothesis asserts that mirror neurons arise from experience. As you learn an action and see others performing a similar one, your brain learns to link the two events together. Mirror neurons were first described in 1992, when a team of neuroscientists led by Giacomo Rizzolatti recorded activity from single neurons in the macaque monkey brain and found that the same neurons fired both when a monkey performed certain actions, like grabbing food, and when they observed an experimenter performing that same action. Rizzolatti’s discovery found mirror neurons in the premotor cortex, a part of the brain which helps plan and execute movements. Subsequent studies have also heavily investigated the inferior parietal cortex, which helps encode visual motion. Still other papers have described mirror neurons in other areas, including the medial frontal cortex, which has been recognized as important for social cognition. Mirror Neurons in Humans In many studies on monkey brains, including Rizzolatti’s initial study and others involving mirror neurons, brain activity is directly recorded by inserting an electrode into the brain and measuring electrical activity. This technique is not used in many human studies. One mirror neuron study, however, directly probed the brains of epileptic patients during a presurgery evaluation. Scientists found potential mirror neurons in the medial frontal lobe and the medial temporal lobe, which helps code memory.