Tag Archives: mimicry

Mirror Neurons: A Distillation of NOVA

The discovery of mirror neurons began with monkeys being studied in Italy. Neuroscientists, among them Daniel Glaser of University College London, noticed that the same neurons (the motor neurons) that fired in the monkey’s brain when the monkey reached for a peanut, also fired when the monkey saw someone else reach for that peanut. Among the conclusions was that “watching somebody do something is just like doing it yourself”. These neurons, which are on both sides of the brain, came to be called mirror neurons due to the brain mirroring what it was seeing.

Now, if you think about one way that people learn, especially babies and children, they do it by mimicking what they see and hear. That is how humans transfer language, kids pick up the motions of sports, dance steps are learned, and we wince or cry or laugh or smile upon watching the ouches, hurts, humor and joy experienced by others.

Wait a minute, how did an emotional component creep into the idea of mirror neurons!

UCLA researcher Marco Iacobini thinks that these mirror neurons impact our empathetic system; they are what lets us feel what others feel, and allows us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. “Mirror neurons can send messages to the limbic or emotional system in our brains.”

Think about how you react to movies you see or books you read or sports teams you follow, or news your friends share with you. Something in most of our brains allows us to feel emotion without actually experiencing the event that leads to the emotion. Whoa.

Check out the Jaunary, 2005 NOVA Science NOW episode about Mirror Neurons for more information. I guarantee it will entertain and illuminate.

Also check out Your Amazing Brain, a site where you can “Explore your brain, take part in real-life experiments and test yourself with our games, illusions and brain-benders.” This site hosts the page referenced above in the link for Daniel Glaser.

Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall

When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
You see yourself, staring back at your “me”.

Have you heard of Mirror Neurons? In January, 2005, NOVA Science Now broadcast a piece on the brain’s system of mirror neurons. A year later, in January 2006, the Science section of the New York Times published the article, Cells That Read Minds.

The Marx Brothers were way ahead of the curve, however, with the inclusion in their 1933 movie, Duck Soup, of this famous Mirror Scene, which provides an introduction (of sorts) to mirror neurons.

A computer screen’s content is set to mirror its display, a brother mimics the behavior of his sister, a child repeats an adult comment they overhear – using the same tone of voice and mannerisms as the adult, and this summer, every time my husband and I arrived at our local outdoor pool to swim in the empty lap lanes, another swimmer would seem to decide as we arrived that they, too, were going for a swim.

The power of suggestion is strong. Just think about what happens when you go out to eat with several people. Does everyone wind up ordering a different meal, or are there overlaps? Then the dinner conversation commences, and opinions emerge. If you didn’t have an opinion on a topic that is discussed, do you find yourself adopting another person’s point of view?