Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

How mirror neurons allow us to learn and socialise by going through the motions in the head

19.12.2008
The old adage that we can only learn how to do something by trying it ourselves may have to be revised in the light of recent discoveries in neuroscience.

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
Further information:
http://www.esf.org
http://www.esf.org/activities/exploratory-workshops/humanities-sch/workshops-detail.html?ew=6744

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Purdue cancer identity technology makes it easier to find a tumor's 'address'
16.11.2018 | Purdue University

nachricht Microgel powder fights infection and helps wounds heal
14.11.2018 | Michigan Technological University

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: UNH scientists help provide first-ever views of elusive energy explosion

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.

Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...

Im Focus: A Chip with Blood Vessels

Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.

Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...

Im Focus: A Leap Into Quantum Technology

Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.

In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...

Im Focus: Research icebreaker Polarstern begins the Antarctic season

What does it look like below the ice shelf of the calved massive iceberg A68?

On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.

Im Focus: Penn engineers develop ultrathin, ultralight 'nanocardboard'

When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure

Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

“3rd Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2018” Attracts International Experts and Users

09.11.2018 | Event News

On the brain’s ability to find the right direction

06.11.2018 | Event News

European Space Talks: Weltraumschrott – eine Gefahr für die Gesellschaft?

23.10.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Purdue cancer identity technology makes it easier to find a tumor's 'address'

16.11.2018 | Health and Medicine

Good preparation is half the digestion

16.11.2018 | Life Sciences

Microscope measures muscle weakness

16.11.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>