I recently watched a video of my boss’s 10 month old daughter stand in front of a mirror, smile, kiss and lick at the image she was seeing. The image was her own reflection. Her tiny palms held onto the mirror or onto the palms of another. We both wondered what she was thinking while she saw her self. I still wonder especially having listened to the talk Mirror Neurons. Could she be aware of herself? Or is she simply aware of what she sees and copying herself unknowingly?
In Mirror Neurons, Marco Lacoboni points out that there is a specific area of the brain that is designed for imitation. The cells in that zone have a social goal. He states that when people imitate each other they start liking each other. In a way we are connecting with one another when we mimic one another. I think this is very true in many ways… There is a saying, ” You are who you hang out with…” I think your friends, your family, or any loved one, that is in your life, is there because there are things you see in them that you like… that perhaps reminds you of you… Your family for instance might look like you. Or you have acquired behaviours through the years that your parents have. This isn’t always the case but it can be observed in some individuals. You date people that may remind you of a parent whether you are conscious of this or not. You may also be attracted to individuals who look like you as well.
In the talk, Lacoboni also states that we are wired for empathy. We can watch someone’s facial expression and in turn the part of our brain that mirrors will be ignited. If we imitate those very expressions while observing someone else, that area is even more “excited” or pronounced when you view the brain imagery. It seems that our visual input our visual brain can stimulate a part of us even when we are not part taking or experiencing that which we see. We can feel empathy without actually being there or doing that thing or having things done onto us. But if we participate those same areas of the brain will experience increased signals between the mirror neurons that spark up. I for instance often feel very empathetic when I see people who walk around the city in crutches or stand on a moving train in crutches. I recall and feel the muscles around my knee and think about how hard it is to move in this city with out full range of ones own physical body. I also think my mood changes when a child or someone is good spirits is around me. What would happen if we all greeted each other, or even were a bit more conscious of others mishaps while engaging in the daily grind. Would we change someone’s out look on their misfortune or would our very own mood take on that of someone who is in negative spirits?
We map ourselves onto others. We expect others to act a certain way and vice versa. When someone acts unmorally we think that person is wrong or evil or whatever. We often don’t think that there is a disconnect between the part of the brain that associates those actions as wrong, etc. I can’t really recall where I found this or read it or heard it, but in this talk of sorts they were discussing social pathological killers. Scientist/medical professional said that there was a disconnect in the brain make up of a pathological killer that did not allow them to feel empathy or even feel that what they were doing was wrong. I wonder if it is the same. And are they really wrong or bad if they are not biologically able to distinguish what is right from what is wrong? If someone is physically incapable of feeling empathy how do we treat their case? A part of thinks of course these individuals should be incarcerated. But that only keeps them from harming people on the streets. It doesn’t mean they learn a lesson. OR that they can learn a lesson. The real question is what causes this disconnect? Why is someone unable to feel empathy? or If we are really “wired to be social… perhaps what really divides us is our political and social beliefs”
“The minds of men are mirrors of one another” David Humes