Mirror Neurons

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Mirror neurons are responsible for things like motor skills, language and empathy.

Mirror neurons were an accidental discovery found by an Italian research team in Parma in the early 1990s.

Mirror Neurons

By 1996, Giacomo Rizzolatti and Vittorio Gallese studied individual neurons in monkeys.

For example, a monkey would be given an object to handle and observe.

As they would reach for the thing, a researcher realized that a neuron in the monkey’s brain fired the same way it had picked up the item.

The research team would follow up on their discovery and found many of the same neurons in the monkey’s frontal lobes.

It’s just before the motor cortex, the name mirror neurons.

These neurons in humans and monkeys activate when they perform a motor act or observe another human or monkey engage in the same show.

However, these neurons are also responsible for more than just motor acts. For example, mirror neurons are connected to emotions in humans.

The frontal lobe is activated when people experience happiness, pain, disgust, and seeing another person experience emotion.

Neurons and Language

There is a neural basis for empathy, identifying or vicarious experiencing feelings in others based on visual and other cues.

A study at the University of California, Las Angeles (U.C.L.A.) concluded that doctors and scientists could decide how the brain responds when people watch someone else experience pain.

The scientist found that those responses predict whether people will be inclined to avoid causing harm to others when facing moral dilemmas.

They would show the scientists and doctors movies and television shows like M.A.S.H. of people doing painful surgeries during wartimes.

The idea was that seeing these people in pain during these highly stressful situations would help these viewers make the right decisions under similar conditions.

These mirror neurons become active a lot earlier than scientists had first thought.

Early researchers in the new mirror neurons believed babies as early as six months old will engage in delayed imitation.

Although later findings and research now show that a newborn as before as 0.7 – 71 hours old can imitate an adult by opening their mouths and sticking out their tongues.

It is also believed that mirror neurons relate to the built-in human capacity to acquire language.

They are also apparently connected with observational learning and, perhaps, with gender differences in empathy.

Thus, mirror neurons not only can teach us motor functional skills, but also things like how to speak a language, or perhaps most important, mirror neurons teach us things like empathy and love.

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Dean Mathers


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