01/23/06 - mirror neurons

In today's excerpt - the human brain's highly complex 'mirror' neurons:

"Moving to higher levels of the brain, scientists find ... other neurons that help the body plan movements and assume complex postures.  Mirror neurons make these complex cells looks like numbskulls.  Found in several areas of the brain ... they fire in response to chains of actions linked to intentions.

"Studies show that some mirror neurons fire when a person reaches for a glass or watches someone else reach for a glass. ... They respond when someone kicks a ball, sees a ball being kicked, hears a ball being kicked and says or hears the word 'kick'.  'When you see me perform an action—such as picking up a baseball—you automatically simulate the action in your own brain,' said Dr. Marco Iacoboni. ...  'And if you see me choke up, in emotional distress from striking out at home plate, mirror neurons in your brain simulate my distress. You automatically have empathy for me. You know how I feel because you are literally feeling what I am feeling.'

"'When you see someone touched in a painful way, your own pain areas are activated,' he said. 'When you see a spider crawl up someone's leg, you feel a creepy sensation because your mirror neurons are firing.' ... In yet another realm, mirror neurons are powerfully activated by pornography, several scientists said.  For example, when a man watches another man have sexual intercourse with a woman, the observer's mirror neurons spring into action.  The vicarious thrill of watching sex, it turns out, is not so vicarious after all."


Sandra Blakeslee


Cells That Read Minds


The New York Times


January 10, 2006


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