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Product Details

  • Paperback: 246 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (August 16, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1463769067
  • ISBN-13: 978-1463769062
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,523,030 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Gold Medal for Best Science Book, 2012 IPPY Book Award.

"If anyone can write about the brain mechanisms of empathy, Keysers is the man... A page turning ... authoritative read". The Psychologist

"A lively close-up at ... empathy... an exciting read for anyone interested in the gentler side of our species". Prof. Frans de Waal, author of The Age of Empathy

"Though many have written about mirror neurons, this book outshines them all". Prof. Mark Hauser, Harvard University, bestselling author of Moral Minds.

"A masterful description of how mirror neurons turn us into social beings". Prof. Dick Swaab

From the Author

Dr Christian Keysers' work has been seminal for the scientific study of empathy. Born in 1973, his work has led to publications in the most prominent scientific journals and has made him one of the youngest people to attain the rank of Full Professor. His capacity to explain his science to the wider audience earned him the Marie Curie Excellence and the IPPY Best Science Book 2012 award. He now leads a lab together with his wife at the prestigious Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience of the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences in Amsterdam. He is a Full Professor at the UMCG and a frequent Visiting Professor at the California Institute of Technology. Outside of the laboratory, his wife Valeria and his daughter Julia are teaching him why empathy is such a gift. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By phantomself on February 22, 2012
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The discovery of mirror neurons is perhaps the most exciting recent development in the altogether-lively field of neuroscience. Christian Keysers, who was part of it almost from the beginning, has written a lively, accessible account of both the science and the human story of discovery.

First discovered in macaque monkeys, mirror neurons are so-called because they fire when an individual performs or observes an action, and when she experiences an emotion herself or observes that emotion in someone else. When you see somebody doing something, you unconsciously run a sort of internal simulation of their behaviour, using some (not all) of the neurons in your pre-motor cortex you would use if you were performing that action yourself. And when you witness another person's emotional state, some of the same neurons in your emotional centres are activated, as would be if the emotion originated within yourself.

A variety of experiments furnish evidence for mirror neuron activity in humans. Keysers and his colleagues think the results explain much about human powers of intuitively understanding the minds of others, and our ability to engage in the complex social interactions which have made us the dominant species on this planet. Through simulation, we internalize, and hence understand, other people. Mirror neurons promise to explain much about how we learn from others, why demonstration has a greater pedagogical value than narration, how we come to be so proficient with language, and why we are engaged by stories and theatre, finally answering Hamlet's question, "What's Hecubah to him, or he to Hecubah, that he should weep for her?" Keyers also explores the question whether autism and related disorders may be caused by a failure of the mirror neuron system.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By B. Case TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I read this book as a companion text to a seniors seminar on “What Makes Us Human.” In that class, the main text was V. S. Ramachandran’s “The Tell Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human.” We were a class of retired seniors all with strong academic, scientific, and professional backgrounds. This book was not as easily readable as Ramachandran’s, but it covered the topic of mirror neurons in greater depth and that is why it was suggested as a supplementary text. Keysers’ book was well-received by all members of the group who took the time to read it and share their views with the class.

I am glad that I purchased this book and read it. I can easily see why is won the 2012 Gold Medal for Best Science Book. Keyser is a very good author; in fact, parts of this read like a page-turning novel. Other parts are quite scientific, but still accessible…after all, neurology can be a very difficult subject.

I was able to use Keysers’ book once more, a few trimesters later, for another seniors seminar. This later class was on “The Science of Evil.” In this class, the main text was a book by that name written by Simon Baron-Cohen. In that class, I (and many of the other class members who read both books) preferred Keysers’ book to Baron-Cohen’s.

Frankly, I am shocked to see that there are not more significant scientific and lay-person reviews of this book on this Amazon site. I hope this brief positive review will help some people realize the merit of this book and they may be motivated to purchase it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mahwish Khan on September 29, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I chose to read The Empathic Brain by Christian Keysers as a reference while researching mirror-touch synesthesia. People with mirror-touch synesthesia can feel sensations (such as touch) when witnessing someone else getting touched. I wanted to read a book on mirror neurons that would be comprehensible for someone with very limited knowledge on neuroscience, while still providing a significant amount of scientific background to gain a solid understanding.

Christian Keysers in this book does a great job in teaching the readers that mirror neurons play a significant physiological and neurological role in creating the connectedness between humans.

As one of the pioneer researchers on discovering and understanding mirror neurons, Keysers does a great job providing general readers with interesting insights into the fallacies of the belief that each of our minds are completely separate. This book does a great job utilizing recent studies along with his own personal stories to convey two main points: 1). Mirror neurons are responsible for preparing our bodies to carry out actions that we witness others doing. 2). The insula is the part of the brain that becomes activated when we respond to other people's emotions, thus suggesting a mechanism behind the reason as to why people can become overwhelmed by other people's emotions.

A synopsis of the book:

Introduction of book
Christian Keysers begins the introduction of the book by accounting his experience of almost losing emotional control during his wedding. He describes how this emotion ended up resonating through all of his friends and family in attendance. Keysers immediately hooks the reader into the topic by beginning in this way.
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More About the Author

I'm a brain scientist. What drives my work is trying to understand a central characteristic of human nature: our intriguing capacity to feel what happens inside of others. This phenomenon I try to understand is epitomized when we watch Hollywood movies. Remember the scene in the beginning of Matrix, where Keanu Reeves almost slips off the roof? Well, even now, just thinking about that scene, my hands start sweating, I get tense, and my heart is beating faster. Why is it, that my body seems to get ready to fall off the roof, simply because I see someone else in that situation? Why are we so empathic? Why do we not need much effort of thought to feel what goes on in others?

During my studies of psychology and biology in Germany, MIT and Harvard, I realized how much looking at how the brain does something tells us about how our mind is made. Over the years, I therefore tried to understand how the brain makes us feel the mind of other people in order to understand how our mind interacts with the people around us. At the end of my PhD in Scotland, I then ran into Vittorio Gallese, an Italian neuroscientist that had just discovered, with his colleagues in Parma, that there are cells in the brain that have an odd dual role. They control our own actions and they respond when we see the actions of others. I intuitively felt that these cells would build a bridge between me and the people I see around me, and immediately decided to join their lab. That same year, I moved from rainy Scotland to sunny Italy with a head full of ideas and a car full of boxes.

Together with Vittorio, Giacomo Rizzolatti, Bruno Wicker, Valeria Gazzola and a handful of scientists elsewhere, like Tania Singer, Jean Decety and Marco Iacoboni, we became part of what might be called one of the most exciting period of neuroscience ever. Before, scientists thought that our brain first perceives what other people look like. Then we thinks about other people - much like we think about math or chess - in a purely intellectual way. At the end of all that, we might start planning what to do, for instance to help a person we see in pain.

Through the study of these neurons and similar systems for emotions and sensations, we literally turned this understanding of how the brain works upside down. We pieced together a radically new theory of what happens while we watch other people. In this new view, perception, thinking and planning are not separate steps. Just as in the movie example, we found that our brain lets the feelings and actions of others permeate our own body and our own mind. Through this empathic sharing, we become the people around us. We don't need to think or plan, because sharing their fate makes us intuitively feel what they feel and do what is appropriate.

Over the years, this work has allowed me to understand many aspects of why humans behave the way they do. It made me wonder why psychopathic individuals kill others without feeling empathy, or why autistic individuals find it hard to understand others. It told me why we sometimes misunderstand others. I have learned to find out when to trust empathy, and when not. It made me look at morality and concepts like projection in a whole new light. Many journalists also asked me these questions, and I loved the articles they wrote. At some point though, I felt it would be time to put it all together in a book that would be fun to read. A book, that conveys the thrill and excitement of making these discoveries; that explains the game changing scientific discoveries we made in a simple, accessible but honest fashion. A book that lets the reader into our labs to show them what we really know; that makes the reader realise how exactly brain science can tell us something about ourselves. A book finally, that inspires people to look at their social lives differently.

The decision to move to Italy was not only determining for my scientific career. I started rock-climbing there, and met Valeria Gazzola. Over a period of three years, we feel very deeply in love. A biologist herself, she started to work with me on these questions. Together we built up a great lab in Amsterdam and made a wonderful daughter. I have never felt as happy in my life, as connected. My book is about science, but it is coloured by this feeling I have every day - connecting with the mind of the people you love is probably the most meaningful event in my life.


Christian Keysers has a PhD in psychology from the University of St Andrews, Scotland and is a Full Professor at Netherlands' largest medical faculty, the University Medical Center in Groningen. He leads a research group, the Social Brain Lab at the prestigious Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, a research centre financed by the Royal Netherlands Academy for Arts and Sciences to give outstanding scientists the chance to focus exclusively on research. He is a frequent visiting professor at Caltech, has published in the best academic journals and has published some of the most noted studies on the social brain. He has won the Marie Curie Excellence Award of the European Union for his capacity to make his work accessible to a broad audience.

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