top of page


By means of embodied simulation we can map others’ actions by re-using our own motor representations as well as others’ emotions and sensations by re-using our own viscero-motor and somatosensory representations.

 Vittorio Gallese

VITTORIO GALLESE  (1959 — ): Researcher, Theorist, Philosopher


Mirror neurons were discovered in the late 1990’s by Vittorio Gallese et al in a research laboratory in Parma, Italy. The researchers were looking for the location of motor neurons that fired when certain muscles in a monkey’s arm moved. Accidentally, they came across motor neurons in the monkey’s brain that fired when the researchers moved. Eureka!

Mirror neurons are motor neurons that fire as one moves. They also activate when others move, hence the name mirror neurons. When a person smiles or frowns, dances or stomps, an observer’s mirror neurons will fire as if he too were making the same movements. The performer’s behavior will be implicitly reenacted in the observer’s mind. This means that an observer has direct and immediate information about the emotional state and perhaps the intentions of the performer’s actions. The observer feels the performer’s feelings and these feelings become part of the observer’s implicit memory.


This in-born capacity allows the baby (and the adult) to feel the state of the sender and therefore respond reciprocally. This pre-cognitive understanding of the other’s intentions and emotional state underscores the bodily core of social interaction. The mirror neuron mechanics also explain the experience of reverie or intersubjectivity when two humans (mother and baby, lovers, good friends) feel a deep and inner connection as if One. It is true intercorporeality — the mirror neurons firing in each other is accompanied by bodily feelings. All mammals have mirror neurons.

When the parenting of a child goes well the attunement of the two allows the child safely to experience feeling and movements (“spontaneous gesture”, Winnicott). When the parent’s state is “frightened, frightening, or dissociated” (Eric Hesse) the baby’s experience can be annihilation. In order to survive, she will respond to her instinctive feelings of FEAR or PANIC, and over-ride his natural reciprocal response. The baby will devise a protective False Self, suited to the needs of the parent. Mirror neurons play an enormous part of our sense of agency, our learned behavior, our subjective experience, and our self-definition, our implicit memory.

— Marythelma Brainard Ransom

The precursor to the mirror is the mother’s face… What does the baby see when he or she looks at the mother’s face? What the baby sees is himself or herself.

 D. Winnicott

A nine-month-old girl becomes very excited about a toy and reaches for it. As she grabs it, she lets out an exuberant “aaaah!” and looks at her mother. Her mother looks back, scrunches up her shoulders, and performs a terrific shimmy with her upper body, like a go-go dancer. The shimmy lasts only about as long as her daughter’s “aaaah” but is equally excited, joyful, and intense.

 Daniel Stern

True Self attunement happens when we accurately match the other’s affective expression, each with our own authentic, implicit signature.

 Julie Kilpatrick

bottom of page