Mirror neurons were discovered by scientist working at the University of Parma in Italy in the mid 1990s. Experiments conducted on monkeys indicated areas in the brain that lit up not only when they handled food but also when they watched others do so, or even heard sounds indicating this in the dark. This points to the fact that these cells in the brain multi task to enable the brain to mirror actions that have been taken before.
Günther Knoblich, of Rutgers University, remarks that “the striking implication of mirror neurons is that the same brain region that controls action also supports perception.” (Knoblich, 2007) He goes on to explain that if the behavior we observe takes place in the same region as that in which the actual act of behaving does, then interacting socially would play a greater role in cognition than was thought previously possible. It possibly also explains why sometimes viewers become so emotionally involved while watching movies, or the behavior of spectators at various sporting events that seemed inexplicable till now. In fact till the1970s and 1980s psychologists believed that seeing and doing came from the same source.
Recent studies in functional imaging lend credence to linking the social aspect in human beings to cognition, although this has not yet been as accurately pinpointed in humans as it has in monkeys. Research teams found that the same regions of the brain were activated while imitating and observing facial expressions, or if one is actually experiencing pain or observing a loved one go through it. Many researchers are of the opinion that these observations show the link between mirror neurons and empathy. Andrew Meltzoff of the University of Washington had pointed in this direction long before mirror neurons were discovered. He had stated that “A key mechanism is learning from ...
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