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Mirror neurons, gestures and language evolution

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Different theories have been proposed for explaining the evolution of language. One of this maintains that gestural communication has been the precursor of human speech. Here we present a series of neurophysiological evidences that support this hypothesis. Communication by gestures, defined as the capacity to emit and recognize meaningful actions, may have originated in the monkey motor cortex from a neural system whose basic function was action understanding. This system is made by neurons of monkey’s area F5, named mirror neurons, activated by both execution and observation of goal-related actions. Recently, two new categories of mirror neurons have been described. Neurons of one category respond to the sound of an action, neurons of the other category respond to the observation of mouth ingestive and communicative actions. The properties of these neurons indicate that monkey’s area F5 possesses the basic neural mechanisms for associating gestures and meaningful sounds as a pre-adaptation for the later emergence of articulated speech. The homology and the functional similarities between monkey area F5 and Broca’s area support this evolutionary scenario.
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Keywords: Broca’s area; gesture; language evolution; mirror neurons; monkey

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Dipartimento di Neuroscienze, Università di Parma 2: Dipartimento di Psicologia, Università di Parma

Publication date: 01 January 2004

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