Mirror Neurons: Empathy Neurons

In a small laboratory in Parma Italy, a team of neuroscientists ran experiments on macaque monkeys.


This particular monkey was hooked up to an EEG machine. The monkey had thin wires implanted in the brain.


Vittorio Gallese, a member of the team, was walking around the lab during a lull in the day's experiment. He picked up an object. He does not remember what the object was. According to his colleague, Marco Iacoboni, " Vittorio...heard a burst of activity from that computer that was connected to the electrodes that had been surgically implanted in the monkey's brain. To the inexperienced ear, this activity would have sounded like static."


That sound was eventually heard "round the neuroscience world" and was the discovery of mirror neurons...empathy neurons


So began the research on the yet unnamed mirror neurons. When studies were transferred to humans, it was learned that those cells are what make humans "mirror" the actions, and especially the emotions of others.


These are "smart" cells. Most cells are not sophisticated. Mirror neurons, however, allow human beings to literally walk in another's shoes.


So, when you hear someone say: "I feel your pain," in a very literal sense, their mirror neurons are on high alert.


In an interview with Sandra Blakeslee of the New York Times, the head neuroscientist in that lab in Parma Italy, Giacomo Rizzolatti observes that humans are "exquisitely social creatures. Our survival depends on understanding the actions, and emotions of others. "


This discovery brings to light all the possibilities that education can provide to enhance and foster every child's empathy neuron. The following PBS program explains even further, the science of empathy.

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