Flashcards in Mirror Neurons Deck (14):
What is the mirror neurone system?
It consists of special brain cells called mirror neurones distributed in several areas of the brain.
They are unique because they fire both in response to personal action and in response to action by others - these may be involved in social cognition allowing us to interpret intention and emotion in others
How did Rizzolati et al. discover mirror neurones?
They discovered that a monkey’s motor neuron became activated in the same way when carrying an action or observing someone else carrying the same action
How has this discovery lead to a new area of investigation?
Because contrary to what we used to think (we understand other’s intentions using our stored knowledge) we actually stimulate other’s actions in our motor system and experience their intention by using our mirror neurones.
How do mirror neurones work?
-mirror neurones fire when an animal makes a movement and also when it observes another animal making the same movement.
-it is thought that humans also have a mirror neuron system, so the neurones involved in e.g. facial expressions, fire when facial expressions are observed in others. This firing activates the feelings associated with that facial expression, allowing us to experience the same feelings we identify in others.
What did Lacoboni say mirror neurones can do?
He said mirror neurones can send messages to the limbic system (part of the brain that deals with emotions) so they help us tune in with each other’s feelings (empathy).
This could be the foundation of our ability to understand and empathise with others, meaning the mirror neuron system is the foundation of social cognition.
Mirror neurones and evolution:
According to Ramachandran,
mirror neurones have been influential in evolution because they allow us to understand the intentions, emotions and perspectives of others making it possible for us to live large groups and complex societies.
They are present in primates and there is some evidence of mirror neurones in birds
Mirror neurones as an explanation for autism:
Ramachandran et al. put forward the broken mirror theory to explain autism:
said that the deficits of social cognition in autism could be due to the dysfunction of the mirror neuron system.
This leads to a failure to develop the ability to read the intentions and emotions of others
Review carried out by Hadjikhani into the “broken mirror” theory:
-found results were inconsistent, particularly in children
-some differences found in brain areas rich in mirror neurones in adults with autism, compared to non-autistic adults.
-they found that cortical areas were thinner and the degree of thinning was correlated with the severity of autistic symptoms.
Hacker’s evidence for mirror neurones:
PROCEDURE: Participants’ brain activity was imaged using fMRI while they were shown a film of people yawning.
RESULTS: When they themselves yawned they showed increased activity in an area of the right frontal lobe which is thought to be rich in mirror neurones.
Mukamel et al. evidence for mirror neurones:
-recorded activity in signal neurones of 21 patients who were being treated for epilepsy. The researcher found some neuron that were specifically active both when the individual performed a task and when they observed a task.
-the active neuron showed up unexpectedly in an area known for memory (the medial temporal lobe), as well as areas where they were expected (e.g. the premotor cortex)
Tranel et al. evidence for mirror neurones:
Found patients with damage to the left pre motor area of the brain could identify pictures of motor actions but could not retrieve the words for action.
This shows that disruption of the motor neuron area does indeed cause action deficits.
Hacker’s evidence for neurones evaluation AO3:
SUPPORTS the significance of the mirror neurones in social cognition as it shows an area of the brain that is thought to be rich in this type of neurones, is activated when perspective-taking occurs.
BUT brain scans do not show the activity of single neurones, the smallest area they can show contains millions of neurones so it is impossible to say whether mirror neurones are different from other neurones.
Most of the research done on single neurones have been isolated and studies have been done on animals for ethical reasons so it is difficult to be generalised to humans because animals do not have a theory of mind.
Churchland AO3 weakness of mirror neurones:
Critics do not doubt the existence of mirror neurones but the issue is what role they actually play
-Churchland says a mirror neuron is just a neuron.
It is simply reporting information to higher level circuitry which then establishes the intentions and thoughts of others. So the neuron just fires in response to action.