- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Picador; First edition (June 23, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0312428383
- ISBN-13: 978-0312428389
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 38 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #145,021 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Mirroring People: The Science of Empathy and How We Connect with Others Paperback – June 23, 2009
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“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
About the Author
MARCO IACOBONI's research has been covered by newspapers around the country, and he has appeared on ABC Good Morning America, the CBS Early Show, and NPR Morning Edition, among other TV and radio programs.
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Anyway, parents! Pay attention. Watching violent movies or playing violent games may lead your children to more aggression!
Other reviewers have described the book pretty well, so I won't really get into that here. But just briefly, it's a well-researched, easy-to-read account of what scientists have learned about mirror neurons, the mechanism through which the brain uitilizes what we perceive other people doing and feeling. Mirror neurons are the key to understanding why we play better tennis after watching a pro match on TV, or why we're likely to laugh if people around us are laughing.
I'll add another note, in case no one else has mentioned it: often after describing an experiment, the author then asks the question that a reader may fairly ask: couldn't the results have a different explanation? He then answers this by describing other experiments done to eliminate other likely possibilities. The result is that the reader comes away feeling that Prof. Iacoboni has been careful to get all the facts he can before coming to a conclusion.
There are about 16 pages of notes at the end, giving references that the reader can follow up on to learn more. No need to take anything on faith here. :-) An excellent work!
Four neuroscientists in Italy discovered the mirror neurons that play such an important role for human interaction. Iacoboni describes experiments that these scientists and numerous others performed first on Macaque monkeys, then later on humans. The results of these experiments showed that mirror neurons are located in the motor cortex, so they fired both when a certain action was performed and when the subject observed the same action being performed by someone else. Neurons firing even though the subject wasn’t physically performing an action showed that our brains imitate others, and the same neurons are firing in both people. As experiments continued, the situation an action was being performed in was deemed important for the neurons to respond because the same action can be associated with different intentions. For example, drinking is a more instinctive intention than cleaning, so a higher response of neurons were seen when a person picked up a cup to drink versus if they picked it up to put it in the dishwasher. However, if a test subject didn’t know where the person was eventually going to put the cup, mirror neurons still fired because implied actions also cause a response.
Throughout the book, Iacoboni uses the information of when mirror neurons fire to show how they are necessary for people to interact, whether it’s through imitation, predicting another’s actions, or empathy. Imitation is important in many behaviors, from understanding how children learn to explaining empathetic actions. Every person uses mirror neurons for a variety of behaviors, including talking, understanding gestures, and listening to others. By being able to imitate with mirror neurons in these situations, we are allowed to feel and recognize another’s emotions. Iacoboni investigates how mirror neurons develop during childhood, through adulthood, and differ in people with autism. At the end of the book, he makes connections to everyday life by exploring the role of mirror neurons through various topics including media violence, addiction, commercial ads, and politics.
I thought the book clearly showed the huge role of mirror neurons in a vast number of behaviors that we don’t even think about on a daily basis. The author provided sufficient background information which was necessary to understand their importance and not only did he give the scientific meaning of the research experiments, but he was able to connect them to numerous situations of everyday life. He gave many opportunities for a reader to have their interest peaked throughout the book, no matter their level of neuroscience knowledge. The important role of mirror neurons was explained by the author discussing their location in many areas of the brain. Knowing where a mirror neuron is located when its firing allows scientists to make generalizations about the types of behaviors these neurons are essential for. Many examples of this were shown which enhanced the author’s analysis about the numerous behaviors mirror neurons are required for. For example, emotion centers in the limbic system allow us to imitate facial expressions. We are able to observe someone’s face, associate it with an emotion, and produce an empathetic response. Mirror neurons were discovered in the primary motor cortex, which is next to the primary somatic sensory cortex. Donald Hebb stated that “cells that fire together wire together.” When people perform an action, they have sensory signals that are triggered from the sight, sound and feel of that action. Perception and action are an integrated process so these sensory neurons are firing at the same time as the motor neurons that are required to perform such action. Hebb would predict that these simultaneous synapse firings cause an increase of strength between these neurons so that one’s motor mirror neurons could be firing in response to the sight of someone else performing an action known to them. Having concrete evidence allowed the book to begin from the viewpoint of single mirror neurons and escalate to the relevant, overall organization of the brain. It was easier to comprehend the author’s discussion with his big picture examples because the mere size of mirror neurons in contrast to their important role on behaviors can be hard to grasp.
Iacoboni explained the importance of mirror neurons thoroughly and in an easily understood way. He discussed background research to show how these neurons came to be known as important and then related them to everyday life so the reader could appreciate how they are relevant. Mirror neurons are extremely important for humans to connect with each other and also for some basic behavioral functions that we perform under the level of cognitive awareness. The various research experiments that have been conducted have taught neurologists what kinds of situations cause these neurons to fire, which allows a behavioral response to be interpreted and understood. Mirror neurons fire in numerous areas of the brain when it imitates the actions of others, allowing learning and empathetic responses, which are critical for human interaction.