Tags: autism, empathy, mirror neurons
VS Ramachandran of the University of California at San Diego has presented an intriguing talk on mirror neurons for TED. A mirror neuron fires when you act or are acted upon, or when you observe someone else either performing an action or being acted upon. Of course, when the mirror neuron fires in response to someone else’s actions, you don’t actually feel what they feel. That’s because sensory and motor neurons actually suppress the input of the mirror neuron to the brain. However, as Dr. Ramachandran notes, if you observe someone having his or her arm poked or pricked while your corresponding arm is anesthetized, you will actually feel pain. Moreover, pain in the phantom limb of an amputee can be assuaged when the amputee watches another person’s corresponding limb being massaged. Amazing!
Some researchers have hypothesized that defective mirror neuron function may be an underlying cause of autism. And obviously, they are likely to play a fundamental role in the ability to feel empathy for others.