Mirror Neurons with Michael Arbib (BSP 39)

Episode 39 of the Brain Science Podcast is an interview with Dr. Michael Arbib from the University of Southern California.  Dr. Arbib's work with functional brain imaging has established the presence of mirror neurons in the human brain.  In our interview, we focused on the role of mirror neurons in imitation and language.  In particular, I questioned Dr. Arbib about the Mirror System Hypothesis (MSH) of Language Evolution that he proposed in 1998 with Giacomo Rizzolatti.  We also explored how this hypothesis diverges from the universal grammar proposed by Noam Chomsky.  Dr. Arbib also shared his enthusiasm for future research and we talked about the special challenges caused by the interdisciplinary nature of modern neuroscience.

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Scientists mentioned in the interview:

  • Giacomo Rizzolatti: His team discovered mirror neurons at the University of Parma, Italy. Other team members: Vittorio Gallese, Luciano Fadiga, and Leo Fogassi.
  • Ursula Bellugi (Salk Institute): pioneered the neurobiology of sign language.
  • Richard Byrne (University of St. Andrews): studies how gorillas learn in the wild.
  • Michael Tomasello (Max Planck Institute for Comparative Anthropology): studies social behavior of primates, including how communicative gestures vary between groups.
  • Noam Chomsky (MIT): famous linguist who has proposed an inborn universal grammar.
  • DL Cheney and RM Seyfarth:  research about primate vocal behavior, especially the use of calls in the wild.


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