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1. Mirror Neurons Have you ever Found yourself Holding your Breath when Watching an actor On a film holding theirs? 2. Mirror neurons are neurons that fire not only when…
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  • 1. Mirror Neurons Have you ever Found yourself Holding your Breath when Watching an actor On a film holding theirs?
  • 2. Mirror neurons are neurons that fire not only when a person is doing a motor action but also when the motor action is being viewed or a sound associated with the motor action is being heard. One of the most interesting things about mirror neurons is that there is strong evidence that they are involved in the etiology of autism.
  • 3. Mirror neurons were discovered by accident in Italy. Neuroscientists were researching neurons firing in the motor cortex and premotor cortex area of macaque monkeys. One of the researchers picked something up that they had dropped and the monkey's neurons fired. The neurons also fired on hearing the sound of an action. It seemed that these neurons had to do with imitation of an action or learning an action.
  • 4. Obviously it would be unethical to implant similar Electrodes in humans (sic!) However, through fMRI images, similar neurons were discovered in human frontal cortexes. It seems that about 10% of the neurons in these areas are mirror neurons Gallese et al, 1996.
  • 5. The idea is that these neurons help primates understand and predict others' actions. This would be adaptive as it would allow you to get to food first, avoid physical violence or even appear more desirable to a mate!
  • 6. Later research has showed that these mirror neurons are located in other parts of the human brain, such as the cingulate cortex and insular cortex, and that they may play a role in empathy and emotional responses. While studying the anterior cingulate cortex of awake human subjects, Simon et al 2006, found that certain neurons that typically fire in response to pain also fired when the person saw someone else in pain.
  • 7. Experiments were done in which children were asked to imitate facial expressions, brain activity near Broca's area was measured by blood oxygen uptake using fMRI. It was found that there was a correlation between brain activity and the number of friends and playdates these children had (Pfeifer, et. al. 2008)
  • 8. At about this time Vilayanur Ramachandran and Lindsay Oberman at the University of California at San Diego were doing research on what is called mu wave suppression in autistic children.
  • 9. Mu Waves Mu waves are suppressed when people both move parts of their own body and observe movement of those same body parts in other people. Mirror neurons are implicated in this suppression. Ramachandran and Oberman found that when childen with autism moved their own body parts, their mu waves were suppressed. However, upon observing the motions of other people or a hand on a video, they had no mu wave suppression. (Only tested males)
  • 10. Ramachandran shook the scientific community when he announced, “The discovery of mirror neurons is the most important unpublicized story of the decade.”
  • 11. There is also a mirror neuron system in the parietal lobe of the brain as well as the frontal lobe. Riitta Hari (2000)has done research using a magnoelectroencephalogram which picks up tiny magnetic activity in various brain areas with participants with Asperger's syndrome. She asked them to imitate simple movements of the mouth and face. Her research demonstrated abnormally slow communication between the mirror neurons in the frontal lobes and mirror neurons in the parietal lobes of these subjects.
  • 12. Christian Keysers et al (2006) at the Social Brain Lab have shown that people that are more empathic according to self-report questionnaires have stronger activations both in the mirror system for hand actions and the mirror system for emotions
  • 13. Yawei Cheng,(2007, 2008) using a variety of neurophysiological measures, including MEG, spinal reflex excitability, EEG, has documented the presence of a gender difference in the human mirror neuron system, with female participants exhibiting stronger motor resonance than male participants- perhaps this reflects the fact that more males are diagnosed with autism than females?
  • 14. Criticisms: Saxe (2005) points out that the cognitive bias shown in the Fundamental Attribution Error cannot be explained by the presence of the Mirror neuron system and the theory of simulation Mirror neurons and simulation theory posit an 'automatic', bottom-up basis for empathy and thence, morality. This makes many people uncomfortable
  • 15. Criticisms cont. Anne Corwin (2007) says that the only thing this research has shown is a different system not a 'broken' system. Lingau et al (2009) did not find mirror neuron activity for acts that were first done and then observed, only the other way round, suggesting that the system is merely priming the motor neurons for subsequent activity.
  • 16. Criticisms cont. There are other ways of understanding other people's actions than mirror neuron system. We don't need such a system. Damage to the inferior frontal gyrus is not correlated with action understanding deficit Although monkeys have mirror neurons, they don't have language, culture or empathy
  • 17. Criticisms cont Evidence from neural plasticity suggests that brain structure can be altered by experience – could this be the case with mirror neurons? FMRI studies cannot prove the existence of mirror neurons – only the oxygen use of sections of the brain with many neurons.
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