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Mirroring People: The Science of Empathy and How We Connect with Others Paperback – June 23, 2009
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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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Anyway, parents! Pay attention. Watching violent movies or playing violent games may lead your children to more aggression!
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.