Mirror neurons of the brain: definition, function, influence on the formation of human personality
If you see a person eating a lemon, the same areas of the brain are automatically activated in your brain, as if you were actually eating a lemon. As a result, you can even feel its taste and wrinkle your face from such a sour fruit. All this happens due to the presence of mirror neurons in the brain, contributing to the manifestation of understanding and empathy for other people. However, their functions are not limited to this.
Theory of Mirror Neurons
In the early 1990s, the academic world started talking about a new discovery in neuroscience. Italian neuroscientist J. Rizzolatti discovered the so-called mirror neurons. During the work of the research group under his leadership, the method of recording the responses of individual nerve cells was used. The results were amazing.
It was found that when a person performs any actions and while observing how someone else performs these actions, the same neurons of the brain are activated in the same way. This is the unique feature of the mirror neurons.
Thus, the foundations were laid for their further study. To date, they have become one of the most popular objects of research in neuroscience. In the 2000s, linguists became interested in mirror neurons. Scientists saw in them a possible explanation for the long-standing question of how language acquisition is carried out.
V.V. Kosonogov in his work "Mirror Neurons: A Brief Scientific Review" highlights the results of research in this area. In particular, the author touches upon the theme of the dynamics of views on the functions of the group of neurons under study. The first definitions of the functions of the mirror neurons were obvious - activity during imitation. Later, new hypotheses began to emerge that linked this discovery with a number of pressing problems of modern biological and humanitarian disciplines.
As it turned out, the neurophysiological level of imitation is due to a group of cells located in several areas of the cerebral cortex, and developing, most likely, from birth. Through imitation, these studies have involved such phenomena and problems as:
- empathy, which refers to the ability to understand and empathize with the feelings and emotions of other people;
- human language and speech;
- understanding of another's consciousness;
- acting skills that imply getting into the role;
- a construct that describes the ability to understand the mental content of other individuals;
- development of social culture, carried out through imitation.
By imitation is meant the reproduction by an individual of the behavior, actions, movements of another individual. Learning through imitation or the so-called “imitational learning” implies the individual formation of new models and forms of behavior, but only at the expense of only one direct perception of the actions of others.
In this context, the influence of mirror neurons on the behavior of children is very large. After all, imitation plays a key role in acquiring social, communication and motor skills. Many modern scholars, for example, V. Ramachandran and L.Oberman, attach great importance to imitation, as an important component of the process of social and scientific and technological development.
Mirror neurons, according to V.V. Kosonogov, can be considered as some kind of behavioral switches, which are located in the associative zones of the cerebral cortex and connect the motor and sensory divisions.
When a person perceives an action performed by another individual, then a certain group of neurons located in the sensory parts is excited. Moreover, it is excited by a certain pattern, which is peculiar to this action. Next, a reaction occurs between the layers of the mirror neurons, as a result of which a certain group of motor neurons of the cortex is activated and imitation is carried out.
Translated from the Greek language "empathy" means "empathy." Under this term understand the emotional responsiveness of one individual to the experiences of another. In the process of empathizing, a person feels identical feelings observable. Empathy can manifest itself not only in relation to the observed or imagined feelings of other people, but also to the experiences of the heroes of various artistic works, theatrical productions, and cinema.
Empathy plays a fundamental role in social life, because it provides an understanding and separation of the feelings, goals and needs of one individual to others. In a sense, empathy is a component of the process of understanding another's consciousness. This means that in many ways it is similar to imitation.
And yet the neurobiology of empathy is very different from the neurobiology of imitation in its general sense. This difference is due to the fact that in the first case, a large role is played by brain regions, which are traditionally associated with emotions. It is very generally possible to say that the neuroanatomical basis of empathy is a system of mirror neurons and the limbic system, with scientists paying special attention to the amygdala and the island.
Many scientists believe that in the process of human evolution, speech arose on the basis of imitation of various sounds and gestures. Human speech, in their opinion, is mediated by a system of mirror neurons found in the Broca area of the human brain. Traditionally, it is associated with speech.
Mirror neurons allow people to imitate each other and probably understand the subtle movements of the lips and tongue of others. This gives impetus to the evolutionary development of language abilities.At the behavioral level, speech can be viewed as the most complex ability for the rapid creation of motor programs for articulation organs.
Thus, with the help of mirror neurons of the brain, through the process of imitation, a person learns to speak and understand speech. Disruption of these neurons can lead to various kinds of mental disorders associated with problems in speech, including autism.
Understanding other people's thoughts
The term "understanding of another's consciousness" by scientists means a person's ability to draw conclusions about the entire set of his mental states, which are the cause of his actions and deeds. These states include the following: intentions, desires, hopes, emotions that are the cause of the actions of another individual.
Thus, the understanding of another's consciousness is the ability of a person to reflect the consciousness of other people. The ability to understand the intentions associated with the actions of others, is a fundamental component in the framework of social behavior.
Today, on the understanding of another's consciousness caused by mirror neurons,in psychology, explanations are made of the mechanisms of learning, the development of human thinking and its ability to interact in society, as well as good acting abilities.
Autism or distorted mental development
Currently, many scientists who are investigating the problem of autism tend to assign a large role in the symptomatology of this disease to the participation of the system of mirror neurons of the brain.
As a rule, at the behavioral level, autism is characterized through difficulties arising during social contacts, the inability to understand and use verbal and non-verbal communication methods, the lag in schooling, the lack of understanding of the metaphorical meaning of words and sentences.
These symptoms also complement the dysfunctions of the brain representation of the actions of other individuals, imitation, empathy, and understanding of another's consciousness. These abilities are consecutive links of one chain and serve to ensure social interaction between people.
V. Ramachandran and L. Oberman, regarding violations of the newly discovered mirror system of the brain as a cause of autism, suggest the possibility of discovering new approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of this disorder.
How to fix broken mirrors
What happens in the case of damage to the mirror neurons themselves? According to V.V. Kosonogov, massively damage these neurons is not so easy, because they are distributed throughout the cerebral cortex.
For example, if a person has suffered a stroke, then only some of these neurons are damaged. Another example, when a person has suffered damage to the left side of the brain, he is sometimes unable to understand the actions of other people.
The most serious damage to the mirror neurons of the brain is associated with genetic disorders. And most often, this happens when an autism is diagnosed.
Due to the fact that in the brain of autists the mechanism of reflection of emotions and actions of others is “broken”, they lose the ability to understand what others are doing. They cannot show sympathy, as they cannot experience such emotions at the sight of joy or sadness. All this is alien to them, not familiar, and may even frighten. Therefore, autists are trying to hide and avoid communication.
According to scientists, there is the possibility of the most complete recovery of autistic children, if you do this at a very early age. At the very first stages, they recommend to show great sentimentality and sensitivity when interacting with such children.
Thus, the mother and the specialist must ensure maximum social and tactile contact with the child. This is necessary in order to develop motor and emotional skills. Games with a child are very important, but not only competitive ones, but those where success occurs only with joint efforts. So, over time, the child will be able to understand that being with someone is not at all scary, and even, on the contrary, it is important and useful.
American neuroscientist L. Katz and writer M. Rubin invented a method for training the brain - neurotic, which was offered to the world through its book "Fitness for the mind." The authors offer 83 fun exercises that help improve memory and develop intellectual abilities. Having chosen the ones you like, you can immediately start training.
At the heart of neurobics is the task of activating new neural paths. When a person has to perform the same routine work, it becomes difficult for him to concentrate on something new. The concentration of his attention falls, the memory begins to weaken.
But if you do your daily routine not on the usual autopilot, but some unexpected,even in a somewhat chaotic way, the brain will tune in to build fresh connections between nerve cells and restore them in case they are lost.
As examples of exercises for the development of mirror neurons aimed at enhancing concentration of attention, improving memory and intelligence, the following simple techniques can be cited, which nonetheless have a scientific basis:
- Try to become ambidexter. This means increasing the inclusiveness of the left hand to right-handers, and the right hand to left-handers.
- Master and develop new skills and abilities.
- Try on different images, change the image.
- Make rearrangements at home, change the interior.
- Memorize jokes and jokes, invent interesting stories and use them in conversation.
Routine and habits put the brain to sleep. Novelty, on the contrary, has a stimulating effect on the sensory inputs of the brain, and contributes to a brighter perception of life, making it more colorful and memorable.
Traditional physical activities also have a significant effect on brain activity. Researchers at the University of Illinois, USA under the direction of A.Cramer was found that regular moderate exercise increases the volume of the human cerebral cortex in the frontal and parietal areas. These areas of the brain are responsible for memory, attention, and switching.
According to scientists, this requires 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of high physical activity weekly, and in addition to this, daily walks of at least 500 meters.
How thoughts put the sick on their feet
As J. Rizzolatti notes, modern scientific studies of mirror neurons are aimed at the practical application of the data obtained. The introduction of new knowledge has already been successfully implemented in various areas of life, including medicine.
Motor mirror neurons force a person to reproduce in his thoughts the same action that he sees. This happens regardless of whether the other person is doing it directly, or whether it is shown on the TV or computer screen.
It was repeatedly noted that when people watch boxing fights, their muscles tighten, sometimes their fists clench. This is a typical neuroeffect.It is the basis for the new technology of recovery of patients after strokes, Alzheimer's disease and other diseases in which the memory of a person forgets movements.
The essence of the new technology is as follows: if the patient's neurons are not completely “broken”, but their work is disturbed, then with the help of a visual impulse, it is possible to activate the nerve cells and make them reflect movements. This will restore the correct operation of the mirror neurons.
To do this, a person needs to show the necessary actions under certain conditions. This technology is called "therapy of action and observation." As experiments have shown, a significant improvement in therapy results in the rehabilitation of stroke patients.
However, the most surprising result, according to the scientist, was found when using this therapy in a different direction - to recover people who have suffered serious injuries and got into car accidents. For example, when a person is put a plaster on his leg, he then needs to re-learn to walk. Usually in such cases, the painful gait is maintained for a sufficiently long time, the patient is limping for a long time.
Traditional training and training take a lot of time.At the same time, when a specially created film is shown with the corresponding movements, the necessary motor neurons in the victim’s brain are activated, and the person begins to walk normally for several days. Even to scientists, it looked like a miracle.
How to cheer yourself up
Thanks to mirror neurons, people have the property to subconsciously perceive and sense the emotions of other people or film characters. Thus, it turns out that during watching dramas, horror films, negative news or tragic stories on TV, a person is automatically charged with the same emotions. As a result, he may feel upset, scared, saddened. It can activate the production of stress hormone - cortisol, which provokes disturbances in attention, memory, sleep, and thyroid gland.
Fortunately, the mirror neuron principle works in a similarly constructive manner in a similar way. If a person communicates with positive, cheerful people, watches films with such heroes, then the same positive emotions arise in his brain.
Despite the fact that mirror neurons and their functions were discovered quite recently, the results of research are already finding their practical application. Moreover, they are applicable in everyday life. Understanding the principle of their work allows everyone to develop memory and intellect, manage their attention, improve their mood and health, and also distribute the fluids of their joie de vivre and those around them.