When I was a high school student I developed an interest in Biology. Initially, it was quite long-range but lately combined with the interest in human behaviour my interest was narrowed to the field of neurobiology. Originally, I was and probably I still am the main object of my own observations and considering the stage of ‘teen-age’ then I was trying to give explanation to every new emotion and feeling.
And that was basically how I found out about the ‘mirror neurons’.
First things first, what MIRROR NEURONS mean?
Mirror neurons are about 20% of our motor command neurons which activates when a person performs a specific action. Basically, this is the part of our mind that is responsible for our reaction while we are observing people around us doing something. They are directly connected to our perceptions and behaviour and they are important part of communication and social interaction. According to some scientists, these are ‘the neurons that shaped our civilisation’.
Neuropsychologists discover them in 1990’s during monkey experiment and then it was confirmed that the same mirror system works in human’s brain. Furthermore, it appears that it occupies much wider network of brain areas. Mirror neuron system develops before 12 months of age and based on some theories it may help us in associative learning and understanding other people’s action.
Mirror neurons are a class of neuron that modulate their activity both when an individual executes a specific motor act and when they observe the same or similar act performed by another individual.
What we use MIRROR NEURON SYSTEM for?
Mirror neurons are part of the complex thought process and are responsible for what is called ‘Intention understanding’. When we are observing something we are thinking not only WHAT is being done, but also WHAT FOR or WHY is being done and for this we use mirror neuron system.
So, here is a neuron that fires when I reach and grab something, but it also fires when I watch Joe reaching and grabbing something. And this is truly astonishing. Because it’s as though this neuron is adopting the other person’s point of view. It’s almost as though it’s performing a virtual reality simulation of the other person’s action.
Mirror neuron system allow us to emulate and imitate other people’s actions.
How MIRROR NEURONS are connected with our emotions?
Mirror neurons allow us to see others as intentional beings, with purpose.
Many studies discuss the idea that mirror system is linked to empathy. V.S. Ramachandran, distinguished professor of neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego, conducted early research on mirror neurons; he discusses that ‘research on mirror neurons and “phantom limbs” suggests an extraordinary human capacity for empathy.’
Why I find MIRROR NEURON SYSTEM an important topic?
The imitation of complex skills is called culture and is the basis of civilisation. There are mirror neurons for action and there are mirror neurons for touch. For example, if somebody touches my hand, a sensory neuron will fire. But the interesting thing is that the same neuron can be fired when I watched another person’s hand being touched. I cannot really feel the touch on my hand but I emphasise with that person, and this way we destroy the barrier between us and other human beings.
[…] the mirror neuron system underlies the interface allowing you to rethink about issues like consciousness, representation of self, what separates you from other human beings, what allows you to empathise with other human beings, and also even things like the emergence of culture and civilisation, which is unique to human beings.
- Mirror neurons: Enigma of the metaphysical modular brain, Sourya Acharya and Samarth Shukla – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3510904/
- What We Know Currently about Mirror Neurons, J.M. Kilner and R.N. Lemon – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3898692/
- Do Mirror Neurons Give Us Empathy?, Jason Marsh – http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/do_mirror_neurons_give_empathy
- The neurons that shaped civilization, Vilayanur Ramachandran – https://www.ted.com/talks/vs_ramachandran_the_neurons_that_shaped_civilization?language=en