The Mirroring of Symbols: An EEG Study on the Role of Mirroring in the Formation of Symbolic Communication Systems

  • Guanhong Li Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
  • Takashi Hashimoto Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
  • Takeshi Konno Kanazawa Institute of Technology
  • Jiro Okuda Kyoto Sangyo University
  • Kazuyuki Samejima Tamagawa University
  • Masayuki Fujiwara Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
  • Junya Morita Shizuoka University


The underlying mechanism of communicative behavior in both humans and other animals was proposed to be “mirroring”, which refers to the similar neural pattern during action production and action observation. Nevertheless, the role of mirroring in human communication remains a puzzle, since human communication systems can take a symbolic form not relying directly on body action. We hypothesized that mirroring contributes to the formation of implied meaning, i.e., connotation, in symbolic communication. We used electroencephalography to study human brain mirroring activity, indexed by mu-suppression measured in 10–12 Hz band over the left-central area, firstly in a non-communicative single-player game then in a communicative coordination game. We evaluated the effect of the mirroring activity in each game upon the performance of symbolic communication in the communicative game. We found that the participants showed significant mirroring in both games performed better on connotation-forming than those who showed significant mirroring in the communicative game only. Our results suggest that imagining signaling action in both communicative and non-communicative contexts could be a key to connotation-forming in symbolic communication.

Original Articles