Research on mirror neurons is one of the growing studies in the neuroscience for the past decade. A neuron is a specialized motor cell meant to transmit nerve impulse in the nerve system. Also, mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when it observes the same action performed by another. For example, when you see a stranger stub her toe, and immediately you flinch in sympathy neuroscientists explain this as work of mirror neurons. In the early 1990s, a team of Italian researchers at the University of Parma made an astonishing and unexpected discovery. Certain groups of neurons in the brain of macaque monkeys fired not only when a monkey performed an action of grabbing an apple from a box but also when it watched someone else performing the action (Ferrari & Rizzolatti 2015). Also, they fired when the monkey heard someone performing the act in the next room. After that, many theories and reports on research emerged to relate mirror neurons to diseases and actions they are responsible for causing (Acharya and Shukla, 2012).
Before the discovery of the brain, cell scientists believed that human brains use logical thought process to interpret and predict other peoples actions. Today, many have come to understand that we apprehend each other not only by thinking but also by feeling. Mirror neurons stimulate not just other peoples actions but the intentions and emotions behind the same (Rizzolatti et al. 2009). Therefore, mirror neuron research is helping scientists reinterpret the neurological underpinning of social interactions. One of the areas in social life where mirror neuron has a significant impact is the emotions and empathy in human life (Pineda 2009). Studies indicated that empathic people have stronger activations both in the mirror system for hand actions and mirror system for emotions. Functions mediated by mirror neurons depend on the autonomy and physiological properties of the circuit in which these neurons are located. Emotional and empathetic activations found in Prieto-premotor circuits are responsible for motor action control. Hence, empathy is directly related to mirror neurons. How mirror neurons work (Pineda 2009)
Example of mirror neurons functionality (Keysers 2011)
Neuroscientists have proved that the inability of autistic children to relate to people and life situations in an ordinary way depends on lack of normally functioning mirror neuron system (Chasen, 2013). The suppression of waves from the motor area when someone watches another persons move and relate to the mirror neuron system is less in these children. Two neuropsychiatric abnormalities describe autism. First, defect in the social-cognitive domain presented by mental loneliness and lack of contact with the external environment. Secondly, sensorimotor defects such as tempers tantrum and some form of repetitive rituals (Braten 2009). All these have a direct connection to the abnormality to mirror neuron developments. Mirror neuron also carries the blame on problems such as language difficulties, self-identification, and intention understanding.
Mirror neurons also have a positive contribution to post-stroke rehabilitation. The functional damages caused by a stroke at times are irreversible and compromise of physical functions such as cognitive, perceptive, visual and emotional damages (Keysers 2011) . The physical therapist uses some treatments for stroke patients to attenuate their sequels. Hence, physical therapist intervention has been implemented based on the neural system. The motor acts observation in post-stroke patients rehabilitation therapy accelerates the return of functional activities (Carvalho et al. 2013). Through observation when a stroke patient watches a video which contains a sequence of mouth, hand and foot movement, their cortical areas are activated afterward.
In conclusion, although enigma of the human brain is vast, the indefatigable attempts by the cognitive neuroscientist have opened up metaphysical secrets on mirror neurons. It has also shaped our civilization and built more human awareness. Mirror neuron contribution in the medical sector cannot go unrecognized and has helped to deal with so many ailments mainly mental related diseases and rehabilitation. With these discoveries, many researchers will continue paying more time to understand its contribution to the world.
Acharya, S. and Shukla, S. (2012) Mirror neurons: Enigma of the modular metaphysical brain. Journal of Natural Science, Biology, and Medicine, 3(2), p.118.Arbib, M. (2012) How the brain got language. New York: Oxford University Press.
Braten, S. (2009) The intersubjective mirror in infant learning and evolution of speech. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Pub.
Carvalho, D., Teixeira, S., Lucas, M., Yuan, T., Chaves, F., Peressutti, C., Machado, S., Bittencourt, J., Menendez-Gonzalez, M., Nardi, A., Velasques, B., Cagy, M., Piedade, R., Ribeiro, P. and Arias-Carrion, O. (2013) The Mirror Neuron System in Post-Stroke Rehabilitation. Int Arch Med, 6(1), p.41.
Chasen, L. R. (2013) Engaging Mirror Neurons to Inspire Connection and Social Emotional Development in Children and Teens on the Autism Spectrum Theory into Practice through Drama Therapy. London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Ferrari, P. and Rizzolatti, G. (2015) New Frontiers in Mirror Neurons Research. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Keysers, C. (2011) The Empathic Brain. [Lexington, Ky.]: [Social Brain Press].
Pineda, J. (2009) Mirror Neuron Systems. New York: Humana.
Rizzolatti, G., Fabbri-Destro, M. and Cattaneo, L. (2009) Mirror Neurons and their Clinical Relevance Nature Clinical Practice Neurology, 5(1), pp.24-34.
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