From "The Trouble with Mirror Neurons" (mindful):
When researchers discovered neurons in monkey brains that fired when an action was performed or observed, they were dubbed “mirror neurons.” And they quickly became the go-to explanation for empathy. Decades later, says Sharon Begley, the evidence that human beings have them is sketchy at best.
Mirror neurons were indeed a paradigm-changing discovery. From the observation that some premotor neurons fire when action is observed rather than performed, however, it is quite a leap to empathy, autism, and the rest. It’s natural to root for the human brain to have as many cool components as possible, and enticing to think that one of them offers a simple and elegant answer to the question of what make us human. But even if it turns out that we don’t have these nifty mirror neurons, it doesn’t make us any less empathetic. We just lack a simple neurological explanation for it.