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Mirroring People: The Science of Empathy and How We Connect with Others Paperback – June 23, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

How do we know what others are thinking and feeling? Why do we weep at movies? UCLA neuroscientist Iacoboni introduces readers to the world of mirror neurons and what they imply about human empathy, which, the author says, underlies morality. Mirror neurons allow us to interpret facial expressions of pain or joy and respond appropriately. Thanks to these neurons, Jacoboni writes, [w]e have empathy for... fictional characters—we know how they're feeling because the feeling is reproduced in us. Mirror neurons also help us learn by imitating, from newborns who instinctively copy facial gestures to adults learning a new skill. The author cites studies suggesting that when mirror neurons don't work properly, as in autism, encouraging imitative behavior, or social mirroring, can help. More ominously, Jacoboni sees mirror neurons as implicated in addiction and finds possible implications for how we react to consumer and even political ads. Iacoboni's expansive style and clear descriptions make for a solid introduction to cutting-edge neurobiology. (May 21)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Want to learn what mirror neurons have to do with Super Bowl commercials, violent video games, autism, addiction, and even free will? This is your book.” ―Discover magazine

“Explaining how mirror neurons might change our notion of free will, act as neural precursors to language, and shed light on human empathy, Iacoboni nimbly takes us through the experiments that led to these findings.” ―Seed magazine

“Pioneer researcher Iacoboni balances technical detail with engaging historical perspective, humor, and idealism.” ―Library Journal

“To read this marvelously accessible book is to share Iacoboni's enthusiasm.... A book full of wonder and promise.” ―Booklist


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Original edition (June 23, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312428383
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312428389
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,019 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Justin Adams on September 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
"Mirroring People" is a must-read for anyone interested in up-and-coming topics in neuroscience, or just as a cursory pick for a brain book. It is an extremely easy read; any medical jargon or procedures mentioned are clearly explained even for those without any prior knowledge of the subject. A big attraction of this book is that it provides a biological basis for, as the subtitle suggests, "How We Connect with Others."

Marco Iacoboni presents mirror neurons in the first chapter as the specialized brain cells in an area of the brain called the premotor cortex, which specializes in the planning and execution of actions. While conducting an experiment in which researchers were recording single neuron readings from monkeys, one researcher found that the neurons were firing (a term used when a neuron is being activated) when said researcher was performing an action the monkey was familiar with. One story has it that the researcher had ice cream and was in the physical act of bringing it to his mouth to take a bite when the neurons in the premotor cortex began firing. While this particular story is eventually debunked, that these cells were activated not only when the monkey was anticipating the action but when it saw others performing provided neuroscientists with an entire new area to study.

After describing what these mirror cells are, Iacoboni does a beautiful job of pinpointing experiments that naturally progress from this simple observation to the broad implications mirror cells have. The basis of mirror cells is imitation. One experiment Iacoboni cited involved two children that were placed in a room that was chock full of objects, two of each. What the experimenters found was that when one child but put on a cowboy hat, the other one would put the other cowboy hat on.
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155 of 175 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Gregory on May 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book tells you a great deal about the people who study mirror neurons. You will learn, for example that Vittorio Gallese is one of twenty-seven members of an exclusive club in Parma in which each member personifies one of Giuseppi Verdi's twenty-seven operas. You will learn that in July 2006 Italy won the World Cup of soccer by defeating France on penalty kicks following a 1-1 tie. You will learn that the author's daughter, Caterina, is in the six grade, is studying ballet, and practices en pointe in the living room. You will learn that UCLA has a Chancellor's Fund for Academic Border Crossing specifically designed for interdisciplinary projects involving two professors from different disciplines mentoring a graduate student who wants to perform interdisciplinary work. If all this sounds fascinating, you will not be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you hoped to learn such things as to how the behavior of mirror neurons is consistent with neural network models, you may be disappointed. The author has a penchant for attributing human attributes to neurons and their workings (perhaps he never heard the admonition, "Don't anthropomorphize neurons; they hate it when you do that"); I found his blending of psychology and neuroscience disconcerting. The authors of the blurbs on the cover of the book clearly found a treasure trove that I somehow missed. I hope you will find similar treasures if you chose to read the book.
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67 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Historied on June 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I would rate this book six stars if I could. I read about 100 serious books a year and this is my top book for the year so far. It tells the fascinating story of the discovery of mirror neurons in a well structured narrative that is highly memorable. As someone who had been following this research at a distance for its implications for my own field, I would say that the author weaves the story wonderfully well around the diverse research teams that make up this expanding field. Each step of the research road becomes comprehensibly built on the previous step. The technology of fMRI etc is well explained at just the right point, as is the research design of each experiment but not drily but memorably. The editing of this book (or its author's skill) is formidable: yet it is a good read: a non-fiction page turner! The fundamental findings described are that certain motor neurons called mirror neurons in our brains fire not only when we act, but when we watch others act. We simulate others actions. This establishes a connection at the most automatic visceral level between people and allows us to attribute intentionality to others. The connections between mirror neurons and the limbic system mean that we can actually simulate what others are feeling. So we can do far more than merely take their perspective; we can actually experience their feelings. This begins to break down the idea of the atomistic individual and shows ways in which community and shared culture can bond us as a profoundly social species. It also provides a clear neural basis for the sense of self versus others. The book shows how this is mediated by super mirror neurons that inhibit the working of mirror neurons differentially if actions are being taken or merely being imitated.Read more ›
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 7, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There are few people working on the science of Mirror Neurons today: Antonio Damasio (author of The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness and Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain), Giacomo Rizzolatti (author of Mirror Neurons and the Evolution of Brain and Language (Advances in Consciousness Research, 42)) and Vitorrio Gallese (author of Mirrors in the Brain: How Our Minds Share Actions, Emotions, and Experience) being some of the most prominent in the field. The work being done by these four men is widely cited throughout the field of psychology.

Iacoboni's book is useful for bringing the average reader up-to-speed on the research behind mirror neurons. My only complaint is that there is something off kilter about the writing style...I can't really articulate what it is other than to say that I felt as though I was frequently waiting for Iacoboni to get to the point. Perhaps it is because English is not his first language (I am not certain about this), but suffice it to say that I felt a certain kind of tension while reading this book. With that aside, I think this is a decent book and recommend it although I would recommend Damasio's newest book first -
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