REVIEW | Institution: Simpson University, Redding, California
Abstract: The mirror neuron system (MNS) is a recently discovered system, existing largely in the inferior frontal gyrus and inferior parietal lobe, which is activated when one either perceives or performs an action, and thought to be important for social interaction. Some have linked atypical MNS activation with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (e.g., Rizzolatti and Fabbri-Destro, 2010). This literature review was conducted to attempt to determine if deficits in the MNS contribute to the social and communicative deficits seen in ASD. Many electroencephalogram (EEG), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and behavioral studies indicate that individuals with ASD improperly engage their MNS in social interaction, which results in social and communicative deficits. Other fMRI, EEG, and behavioral studies indicate that individuals with ASD have a functional MNS. Recent experimental work has also shown that the functioning of the MNS is heavily subject to top-down influences, and that individuals with ASD have abnormal top-down processing. This review therefore concludes that individuals with ASD have a functional MNS that is irregularly inactive during social interaction due to abnormalities in the connectivity of their automatic top-down processing systems, and this inactivity contributes to the social deficits seen in ASD.