Associative (not Hebbian) learning and the mirror neuron system.
Cooper RP., Cook R., Dickinson A., Heyes CM.
The associative sequence learning (ASL) hypothesis suggests that sensorimotor experience plays an inductive role in the development of the mirror neuron system, and that it can play this crucial role because its effects are mediated by learning that is sensitive to both contingency and contiguity. The Hebbian hypothesis proposes that sensorimotor experience plays a facilitative role, and that its effects are mediated by learning that is sensitive only to contiguity. We tested the associative and Hebbian accounts by computational modelling of automatic imitation data indicating that MNS responsivity is reduced more by contingent and signalled than by non-contingent sensorimotor training (Cook et al. ). Supporting the associative account, we found that the reduction in automatic imitation could be reproduced by an existing interactive activation model of imitative compatibility when augmented with Rescorla-Wagner learning, but not with Hebbian or quasi-Hebbian learning. The work argues for an associative, but against a Hebbian, account of the effect of sensorimotor training on automatic imitation. We argue, by extension, that associative learning is potentially sufficient for MNS development.