Assessing human mirror activity With EEG mu rhythm: A meta-analysis

Nathan A. Fox*, Kathryn H. Yoo, Lindsay C. Bowman, Erin N. Cannon, Pier F. Ferrari, Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg, Ross E. Vanderwert, Marinus H. Van IJzendoorn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


A fundamental issue in cognitive neuroscience is how the brain encodes others' actions and intentions. In recent years, a potential advance in our knowledge on this issue is the discovery of mirror neurons in the motor cortex of the nonhuman primate. These neurons fire to both execution and observation of specific types of actions. Researchers use this evidence to fuel investigations of a human mirror system, suggesting a common neural code for perceptual and motor processes. Among the methods used for inferring mirror system activity in humans are changes in a particular frequency band in the electroencephalogram (EEG) called the mu rhythm. Mu frequency appears to decrease in amplitude (reflecting cortical activity) during both action execution and action observation. The current meta-analysis reviewed 85 studies (1,707 participants) of mu that infer human mirror system activity. Results demonstrated significant effect sizes for mu during execution (Cohen's d = 0.46, N = 701) as well as observation of action (Cohen's d = 0.31, N = 1,508), confirming a mirroring property in the EEG. A number of moderators were examined to determine the specificity of these effects. We frame these meta-analytic findings within the current discussion about the development and functions of a human mirror system, and conclude that changes in EEG mu activity provide a valid means for the study of human neural mirroring. Suggestions for improving the experimental and methodological approaches in using mu to study the human mirror system are offered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)291-313
Number of pages23
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Action execution
  • Action observation
  • EEG
  • Mirror neurons
  • mu rhythm


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