Mindful Happiness Explores – The Miracle of Mirror Neurons
Between 1996 and 2000 researchers (Gallese and Rizzolatti) at the University of Parme in Italy discovered what are now called mirror neurons. Neuroscientists speculate that mirror neurons (reportedly in the Broca’s area of the prefrontal cortex) activate perceptual responses for internal motor-emotional responses. Thus mirror neurons may activate personal reactions to the relational actions/intentions of others, especially those mediated via facial emotions and bodily gestures. These neural links between self and others respond immediately to perceived intentionality of other people; these interpersonal neural linkages include resonance with feelings, facial emotions, bodily movement, and projections of others. The list below notes various proposed functions of the mirror neurons, especially those functions related to face-watching in interpersonal encounters. For psychotherapists and educators, knowledge and sensitivity to mirror neuron processes may be highly valuable assets.
The Proposed Functions of Mirror Neurons
- Perception of another person’s intentions and behaviors;
- Possible adoption of another person’s point of view, perspective, or emotions;
- Enhancing self-consciousness regarding awareness of others;
- Linking visual, auditory, motor and interpersonal brain maps with perceived awareness of others;
- Clarification of communicated language via sounds and the shape of the mouth and face;
- Evolutionary – regarding receiving information via visual stimuli (inferior parietal lobule);
- Enhancing imitation and, possibly, empathy;
- Probable roles in attachment and healing processes as well as cooperation and opposition;
- Improvement of limbic sensitivity to emotional intention of others;
- Integration of gestural, facial and bodily communications pathways;
- Utilization of Hebb’s rule – neurons that fire together wire together (plasticity); and,
- Enhancing self-identification (identity, self-concept, etc.) via interactions with and introjections from others.
For more information refer to Ramachandran, V. S. (2011). The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes us Human, pp. 22-23, 137-149, 172-180, 208-209, 250-253, 260-262, and 290-291.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness
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