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How mirror neurons allow us to learn and socialize by going through the motions in the head
Date:12/19/2008

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.


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Contact: Riccardo Viale
riccardo.viale@fondazionerosselli.it
39-026-448-7539
European Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert

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