The Mirror Neuron System

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  • Neurons in the cerebral cortex are organised into four main areas: the frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital lobes.
  • Different processes, such as visual perception, involve one or more of these lobes. Some areas of the brain seem to have very specialised roles in cognition.
  • It seems likely that many of our sophisticated social abilities, such as theory of mind, also involve complex brain mechanisms - these may have evolved as our brains and intelligence grew. Abilities like this could have been stimulated by our complex social living.
  • Attempts have been made to connect findings from neuroscience and social psychology and combine them into more complete theories - this is known as social neuroscience.
  • Mirror neurons are brain cells that are involved in performing an action, such as holding a cup. However, they're also active when you observe someone else doing the same action. So, whether you're actually holding a cup or only observing someone else holding a cup, particular mirror neurons will be active.

Di Pellegrino et al - recording neuron activity

  • Electrodes were inserted into individual neurons in the premotor cortex of macaque monkeys. When the monkeys reached for food, the activity in the neurons was recorded.
  • The neurons were active when the monkeys reached for food, but also, unexpectedly, active when they observed someone else reach for food.
  • This was the first study to provide evidence for the existence of mirror neurons. Although the function of mirror neurons is not yet clear, they may help in understanding observed behaviour.
  • The experiment was not designed to study mirror neurons, so the information gathered about them was limited. Also, this…


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