Mirror Neurons Activate With Your Actions And The Actions Of Others

In the 1990s, Italian neuroscientists discovered something amazing in the brains of macaque monkeys: there were motor (movement) cells that activated the same way when the monkeys did something as they did when the monkeys watched others do the same thing. They called these "mirror neurons." The idea is that when you watch someone else pick up a glass, kiss a loved one, or perform any other action, mirror neurons are making your brain simulate that activity; acting as if you were doing it yourself even when you're standing still. Other scientists quickly began studying their role in all sorts of areas, from empathy to autism.

Many scientists think that these neurons could be the reason we can understand why people do things, and therefore how we can feel empathy for them and predict their future actions. Some research has suggested that they're behind difficulties with empathy in autistic people, and also play a role in problems with speech. In recent years, however, the tide has turned, with other scientists arguing that there's insufficient evidence for many of these claims—a controversy covered in depth by Scientific American. The jury is still out on what mirror neurons really do, but one thing is certain: the brain remains a complex, mysterious thing. Learn more about mirror neurons and empathy in the videos below.

V.S. Ramachandran on Mirror Neurons

Hear about mirror neurons from one of their biggest scientific proponents.

Brené Brown on Empathy

The scholar explains, first of all, the difference between empathy and sympathy.

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Empathy fuels connection, whereas sympathy can drive disconnection. 00:14

  2. Hear the four qualities of empathy: 00:29

  3. A sympathetic response often unhelpfully searches for silver linings. 01:42

Why Psychopaths Don't Lack Empathy

The science is changing on this one.

Written by Ashley Hamer November 19, 2016

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