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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mirrors in the Brain

In the midst of reading Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Interconnect With Others, by Marco Iacoboni. A non-technical book about mirror neurons, which at least in the monkey, and possibly in the great apes and us, appear to sympathetically fire when we see others performing some actions or emotions. So far a useful overview of the initial research in the late 80s. There are some doubters, an outline of skeptical research can be found in the WP. Its an easy concept to stretch too far, like in the subtitle of the book, it may only be relevant in some simple pre-language motor sectors of the brain. Good read, I see at least a half dozen other books on the same topic in Amazon.

Update: Finished book, I recommend it. Later in the book he positions mirror neurons (MN) much more broadly, and likely controversially as the glue that creates social interaction. A number of interesting thoughts:

' ... mirror neurons in the infant brain are formed by the interactions between self and other ... to build a sense of self, since these cells originate early in life when other people's behavior is the reflection of their own behavior ....' (p.134)

As might be expected, as a researcher in the field, he is always looking for mirror neuron solutions. He also discusses neuromarketing which he is very positive about, describing their own superbowl ad studies, though no numbers about how well they did. He outlines a grand test for neuromarketing. He also considers the negatives of the MN system, such as it likely being an enabler of real-life violence when fed by media and gaming violence. And outlines the use of MN theories in politics. Nothing about connections to spirituality and religion.

Late in the book he suggests that MN theories could be used to build better and more socially responsible societies and outlines the considerable difficulties involved. I agree, this utopia is not likely to happen in any World we know today.

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