University of Southern California

USC Neuroscience

Michael A. Arbib

Fletcher Jones Professor of Computer Science
University Professor
Professor of Biological Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Neuroscience and Psychology
Director, USC Brain Project

Research Topics

  1. Computational and cognitive neuroscience
  2. Mirror neurons and action recognition
  3. Brain mechanisms of language and their evolution
  4. Epistemology
  5. Neural networks
  6. Simulation
  7. Schema theory
  8. Neuroinformatics
  9. Neuroscience applied to architecture

Research Overview

The thrust of Michael Arbib's work is expressed in the title of his first book, Brains, Machines and Mathematics (McGraw-Hill, 1964). The brain is not a computer in the current technological sense, but he has based his career on the argument that we can learn much about machines from studying brains, and much about brains from studying machines. He has thus always worked for an interdisciplinary environment in which computer scientists and engineers can talk to neuroscientists and cognitive scientists.

His primary research focus is on the coordination of perception and action. This is tackled at two levels: via schema theory, which is applicable both in top-down analyses of brain function and human cognition as well as in studies of machine vision and robotics; and through the detailed analysis of neural networks, working closely with the experimental findings of neuroscientists on humans and monkeys. He is also engaged in research on the evolution of brain mechanisms for human language, pursuing the Mirror System Hypothesis that links language parity (the fact that what the speaker intends is roughly what the hearer understands) to the properties of the mirror system for grasping -- neurons active for both the execution and observation of actions -- to explain (amongst many other things) why human brains can acquire sign language as readily as speech.

A new interest is working with architects to better understand the neuroscience of the architectural experience and to develop a new field of neuromorphic architecture, "brains for buildings".

The author or editor of almost 40 books, Arbib has most recently edited "Who Needs Emotions? The Brain Meets the Robot" (with Jean-Marc Fellous, Oxford University Press, 2005) and "From Action to Language via the Mirror System" (Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Contact Information

Mailing Address:
University of Southern California
USC Brain Project
HNB 03
Los Angeles, CA 90089-2520
Office Location:
HNB 03
Office Phone:
(213) 740-9220
Lab Location:
HNB 10
(213) 821-3046


  • B.Sc. (Hons.) First Class Honours in Pure Mathematics, University of Sydney, Australia, 1960.
  • Ph.D. Mathematics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1963.

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Selected Publications

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Bonaiuto J, Arbib MA. (2010) Extending the mirror neuron system model, II: what did I just do? A new role for mirror neurons. Biol Cybern. 102(4):341-59.

Arbib MA.(2010)  Mirror system activity for action and language is embedded in the integration of dorsal and ventral pathways.Brain Lang. 112(1):12-24.

Arbib MA, Lee J. (2008) Describing visual scenes: Towards a neurolinguistics based on construction grammar. Brain Res. 1225:146-62. -PubMed

Arbib MA, Liebal K, Pika S. (2008) Primate vocalization, gesture, and the evolution of human language.Curr Anthropol. 49(6):1053-63; discussion 1063-76.

Arbib, M.A. (2007) Autism - More than the Mirror System. Clinical Neuropsychiatry 4(5-6): 208-222

Arbib, M.A., (2005) From Monkey-like Action Recognition to Human Language: An Evolutionary Framework for Neurolinguistics (with commentaries and author's response). Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 28:105-167. (Supplemental commentaries and the author's "electronic response" are at Behavioral and Brain Sciences; see Link.) -PubMed -Link

Bota, M., and Arbib, M.A., (2004) Integrating Databases and Expert Systems for the Analysis of Brain Structures: Connections, Similarities, and Homologies. Neuroinformatics. 2:19-58. -PubMed

Fagg AH, Arbib MA. (1998) Modeling Parietal-Premotor Interactions in Primate Control of Grasping. Neural Networks. 11:1277-1303 -PubMed

Guazzelli A, Corbacho FJ, Bota M, Arbib MA. (1998) Affordances, Motivation, and the World Graph Theory. Adaptive Behavior. 6:435-471

Dominey PF, Arbib MA, Joseph J-P. (1995) A Model of Corticostriatal Plasticity for Learning Associations and Sequences. J Cog Neurosci. 7:311-336