Empathy allows us to feel the emotions of others – to identify and understand their feelings and motives, and see things from their perspective — in effect, to read their mind.
Some scientists now believe they may have finally discovered the source of empathy. We all read minds, they say. The idea has been slow to gain acceptance, but the evidence is mounting daily. It all has to do with what are now being called mirror neurons. And yes you DO have them in YOUR mind, and you DO use them to read minds.
Your Mysterious Mirror Neurons
Back in 1996, three neuroscientists were probing the brain of a macaque monkey when they stumbled across a curious cluster of cells in the premotor cortex an area of the brain that helps us plan our movements.
They found that the interesting cluster of cells fired not only when the monkey performed an action but also when the monkey saw the same action performed by someone else. The cells basically responded the same way whether the monkey reached out to grasp a peanut, or merely watched as another monkey or a human grabbed a peanut. Because the cells reflected the actions that the monkey observed in others, the neuroscientists named them “mirror neurons.”
Later experiments confirmed the existence of mirror neurons in humans and revealed yet another surprise: In addition to mirroring actions, the cells also mirrored sensations and emotions. With mirror neurons we are practically in another persons mind, says Marco Iacoboni, neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine.
Scientists are saying that when we interact with someone, we do more than just observe the other persons behavior — we create internal representations of their actions, sensations and emotions within ourselves, as if we are the ones that are moving, sensing and feeling.
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