Biological explanations for social cognition

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The role of the mirror neuron system

Discovered accidently by Rizzolatti et al (1996). They were recording neural activity in the morot cortex of macaque monkeys and found neurons in the F5 area in the premotor cortex became active as if the money was doing an action.

Imitation -  MN encodes the activity as if the observer were acting it out. MN response in generally off-line as we don't immediately copy someones actions. Lhermitte et al (1986) found that people who have damage to their frontal cortex display comulsive imitation. 

Intention - Lacobini et al (2005) studied 23 participants who were shown a context clip (before/after), action clip (before/after), and intention clip (both together) of a tea party. the most frontal cortex activity was in the initention clip showing the person was trying to understand why. 

Perspective taking and ToM - Gallese and Goldman (1998) found MNs may be part of a general mind reading ability as by experiencing someones actions we understand their percpective (ToM). This then leads to empathy which is crutial in prosocial behaviour.

Language acquisition - used for imitation. Binkofski et al (2000) found evidence of MNs in Broca's area (speech production). human equivilent of monkeys F5 area.

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Evaluation

Simulation theory - supports ST which suggests we experience what others are experienceing and predict their feelings and actions. Theory theory (TT) suggests we construct a theory based on the available info to predict their feelings. 

Lack of support - weak conformation of MNs. Lamm et al (2007) - the brain regions active then someone feels emotion or watches someone else experience emotions werent the ones identified for MNs. 

Myth? - Gopnik (2007) argued that its a swcientific myth as most the research is from animals who dont have ToM, and it is too simple to explain ToM which is very complex. She also suggestes it could be learnt through association (Nature/Nurture) to create cell connection.

Evidence - Slack (2007) recorded actions of 286 individual neurons in subjects brains and asked them to report simple actions and observe short films of others doing the same actions. it identified 34 MNs activated by performance and observation. They also saw different kind, e.g. ones which become supressed in observation; preventing us imitating it.

Real-world application - autistic children have been shown to have a reduced activity in the frontal cortex area of MNs. Slack (2007) suggests stregthening this area could help them develop ToM. 

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