Okay, lets see by a show of hands – – how many of you have ever heard of mirror neurons? According to The American Psychological Association, mirror neurons are a type of brain cell that respond equally when we perform an action and when we witness someone else perform the same action. These neurons can help explain how and why we “read” other people’s minds and feel empathy for them.
Mirror neurons were discovered by a team of Italian researchers at the University of Parma led by Neuroscientist Giacomo Rizolattik, MD in the early 1990s in the brains of macaque monkeys
While the concept surrounding mirror neurons seems simple enough, the implications are mind-blowing, most recently suggesting help in explaining autism and the evolution of language.
Psychologist V.S. Ramachandran, PhD, a leader in mirror neuron research, has referred to the discovery of mirror neurons as one of the “single most important unpublicized stories of the decade.”
Maybe I’m just the bearer of bad news, the one to zero in on doom and gloom, but when I recently learned about mirror neurons, one of the first things I linked it to was the overwhelming amount of violence we see and learn about, especially recently.
When I was a young girl, I remember watching the “Honor Roll” of names of the young American soldiers who were injured or died in Viet Nam scroll on the television every Friday evening. As my parents explained to me what this was, my horror grew. And every week, there were new names and new lists. The fact that these lists only named the young men in the tri-state area of where I lived was devastating to me. And when they coupled that list with a few moments of footage showing helicopters and jungles with smoky haze, I experienced, just for a moment, what some of the horror must have been like.
Flash forward to today – where children much younger than I was get “front-row seats” to video games and violent movies, daily newscasts and constant media exposure to the senseless murders and destruction of lives that surround us.
If there is some link, and for some unexplainable reason there have been no studies connecting violence and mirror neurons yet, (a topic for another post in the future,) then how on earth can all this ‘in your face’ violence be good for us?
I know – I know! There are still no conclusive studies that link watching violent movies and video games and the like are directly attributing to the increase in violence in our society. But as I said earlier, there have been no studies done on mirror neuron and violence yet.
I’m as empathetic as the next gal, and I love all these findings and information about the brain, but I have to admit, I tend to think it is much more important to determine that link than the link between yawning and mirror neurons or empathy and mirror neurons – and there has been plenty of research funding those studies.
At best – it has to make you wonder what are we waiting for!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!