Saturday, August 17, 2013

Empathy and Biology

     I was re-familiarizing myself the other day with the whole theory of mirror neurons.  This theory is based on the research by two Italian scientists, Dr. Rizzolatti and Dr. Fadiga, who studied monkeys' brain responses.  In one study, they found that the same motor neurons would fire in monkeys who were watching someone pick up a banana or eat a peanut.  In other words, the monkeys who were watching the action didn't have to move, but their brain responded as if they had done the same action that they had witnessed.

     When researching whether mirror neurons existed in humans, studies have shown evidence that similar areas in the brain react when people are watching other people who are performing specific actions, smelling noxious odors, feeling certain tactile sensations, and so on.  The psychologist Dr. Ramachandran believes that the discovery of mirror neurons is one of the "single most important unpublicized stories of the decade."

     Scientists have speculated that mirror neurons developed for the purpose of building empathy, which is necessary for social coherence.  My question is:  Are empaths equipped with more of these mirror neurons, or is there another explanation for their gifts?  More on that to come.

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