It turns out that humans, primates, some birds, and possibly other higher animals have mirror neurons that fire in the same pattern whether performing or just observing a task.
These mirror neurons clearly play an important role in learning motor tasks involving hand eye coordination, and possibly also acquisition of language skills, as well as being required for social skills, but the exact processes involved are only just being discovered. In particular the relationship between mirror neural networks and social cognitive tasks has been unclear, and greater knowledge of it could shed light on problems such as autism that may arise when this process goes wrong.
This emerging field of mirror neurons in social cognition was discussed at a recent workshop organized by the European Science Foundation (ESF), which laid the ground for the first common research network dedicated to this fast emerging field, within the EU's 7th Research Framework Programme running until 2013.
The role of mirror neurons at all levels of social interaction is even greater than had been realized, according to convenor of the ESF conference Riccardo Viale, president of Rosselli Foundation in Turin, Italy and professor of Cognitive Science (University of Milan). "Most of the speakers highlighted how the mirror mechanism is crucial for both more basic forms of emotional recognition and also higher aspects of empathy," said Viale.
Just as the same mirror neurons fire when observing and doing certain tasks, so other mirror neurons may be triggered both when experiencing a particularly emotion and when observing someone else with that emotion. At the ESF conference it emerged that mirror neurons involved in emotion resided in both the insula and cingulate cortexes, two regions of the brain known to play roles in emotions and feelings. However until recently the mechanisms of interaction between these two had been largely unknown. "In the case of emotions, we can say that there is a good deal of overlap between areas from the insula and cingulate cortexes," said Viale. "These areas become active both when individuals feel an emotion (e.g. disgust) and also when they watch someone else feeling that emotion."
Mirror neurons were discovered in the 1980s by an Italian group led by Giacomo Rizzolatti, which placed electrodes in the inferior frontal cortex of macaque monkeys' brains to study neurons dedicated to control of hand movement. This led to the surprising observation that some of the neurons responded in the same way when monkeys saw a person pick up a piece of food as when they were doing it themselves. This introduced the principle of the mirror neuron as a neuron capable of being triggered by imitation, as a mechanism both for learning and empathising in social situations.
While mirror neutrons cannot be observed directly in humans because electrodes cannot be inserted into their brains, the action has been inferred by imaging of the whole brain using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This showed patterns of brain activity consistent with the firing of motor neurons.
More recently motor neurons have also been discovered in birds. "This suggests that such a sensory-motor mechanism is not confined to primates, but is shared by different phyla," said Viale. However the mechanism is not thought to be present in more primitive animals, including the lower cold blooded vertebrates, that is fish, reptiles and amphibians.
The ESF workshop took the field forward by highlighting growing agreement over the role of mirror neurons in social cognition. "The main outcome of the workshop was substantial convergence on some key points concerning the basic mechanisms of social cognition," said Viale. "In particular, most of the invited speakers agreed on the relevance of mirror-based action and emotion understanding in the phylogeny and ontogeny of mind-reading abilities." There was also agreement on the need to develop a multidisciplinary approach to the different levels of social cognition. The ESF workshop, Mirror Neurons and Social Cognition, was held in Turin, Italy, in September 2008.
Thomas Lau | alfa
Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia
21.10.2016 | Universitätsklinikum Magdeburg
New potential cancer treatment using microwaves to target deep tumors
12.10.2016 | University of Texas at Arlington
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.
Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine
21.10.2016 | Information Technology
21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences