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Wolf, N.S. Gales, M.E. Shane, E. Shane, M. (2001). The Developmental Trajectory from Amodal Perception to Empathy and Communication: The Role of Mirror Neurons in This Process. Psychoanal. Inq., 21(1):94-112.

(2001). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 21(1):94-112

The Developmental Trajectory from Amodal Perception to Empathy and Communication: The Role of Mirror Neurons in This Process

Nancy S. Wolf, M.D., Mary E. Gales, M.D., Estelle Shane, Ph.D. and Morton Shane, M.D.

In a recent paper entitled “Mirror Neurons, Procedural Learning and the Positive New Experience” (Wolf et al., 2000), data were presented about a special type of neuron, the mirror neuron, originally located by Rizzolatti and his colleagues (1995). These neurons were discussed as they related to a particular developmental view of psychoanalysis, developmental systems self psychology (Shane, Shane, and Gales, 1997).

In this paper, we focus on how this mirror neuron system might contribute to the development of communicative abilities in humans. First we summarize the research findings about mirror neurons and how they apply to humans. We then attempt

to demonstrate how the mirror neuron system might be involved in a developmental sequence hypothesized by Kohut (1984), Stern (1985), and others to begin in infancy. We postulate that this trajectory starts with the onset of “amodal perception(Stern, 1985) and then proceeds to affect resonance, joint attention, and ultimately to symbolization of language. In this paper, we attempt to integrate these concepts with a formulation of empathy and demonstrate what might go awry in developmental disorders when the normative sequence of development described above does not take place.

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