What exactly is mirror neuron

Mirror neurons

Mirror neurons are sometimes also called simulation or empathy neurons, and are nerve cells that trigger the same potentials in the brain while observing a process as would arise if this process were not merely observed passively, but actively carried out.

Mirror neurons not only simulate actions in the brain of the watching or participating person, but also sensations and feelings. So there are overall impressions that you gain from other people, and emotions, motivations, action strategies, etc. from people with whom you deal intensively leave behind a kind of inner image.

After today through popular science articles The widespread notion is that mirror neurons are inherited cognitive instruments used by evolution that give people the gift of crossing the mental rift that separates one person from the other. In such an article it says, for example: “It is also mirror neurons that are responsible for the fact that we have to cry more often when we are watching a sad movie. At that moment, our nerve cells react exactly as if we were actually experiencing what is currently being shown in the film. Even when reading an exciting book, you surely feel for it sometimes - don't you? It is often the case that you feel particularly close to a person in the book. With this you feel the novel plot with the help of the mirror neurons as if you were there yourself. This can of course also be funny, so that you have to laugh out loud while reading. " Or: “Something similar happens in your parents' head when they read on a piece of paper that cases of lice infestation have occurred again in your kindergarten. At this moment they put themselves so deeply into the situation that they immediately have the impression that the little parasites are also crawling around on their own heads. There are no lice at all. The itch is still real. "

A discussion in the Forum All Mystery on the connection between mirror neurons and soul:

Neural coupling in conversations

Greg Stephens et al. (2010) used the functional MRT in a simplified conversation simulation - they let the “speaker” tell an incident from his life and recorded his brain activity and then played it to a “listener” and measured his brain activity, taking them according to time and were looking for spatial correspondences in the brains of the two test subjects. In fact, there was an extensive coupling of the two brains, whereby not only the hearing and speech centers showed an interdependent activity pattern, but also areas that are responsible for higher cognitive functions, whereby most of these areas were somewhat earlier in the course of the narration in the case of the speaker lit up than with the listener, but also a few areas became active with the listener at a point in time when they were not yet working for the speaker. Presumably it is therefore a kind of prediction system that prepares the brain for upcoming information. Among the coupled areas were primarily those that are responsible for social aspects of communication and for assessing the emotional state of the other person, and here again the mirror neuron system, which is already susceptible to such examinations.

Borderline and mirror neurons

Sosic-Vasic et al. (2019) discovered that emotional hypersensitivity is accompanied by increased activity of specific mirror neurons. These nerve cells are already stimulated by the observation of actions and the external perception of feelings and are therefore crucial for learning through imitation and reliving emotions. As a kind of resonance system in the brain, these special nerve cells react very sensitively to the feelings and moods of others, which is why they are not only decisive for the empathy ability of people, but also play a key role in emotional infection. The researchers have shown that borderline patients react particularly strongly to scenes of loss and grief. These findings could explain why people with borderline disorder are extremely susceptible and extremely responsive to negative feelings. In comparison with the control group, it could be seen that there were further differences in the prefrontal cortex, because in those affected the area that is decisive for the cognitive assessment of emotional states of others, i.e. the area for mentalization or for the, is far less activated reflected classification of emotional perceptions. This mentalization is necessary in order to be able to assess the intentions and motivations of other people. This is why borderliners find it particularly difficult to put themselves in other people's shoes and to adopt their perspective.

Mirror neurons in art reception

Gallese & Freedberg (2007, p. 197) suspected in a research article that people are also active in imitation when they are standing in front of works of art as well as abstract images, whereby in addition to figurative and especially formal features of the works, “Simulation occurs not only in response to figurative works but also in response to experience of architectural forms, such as a twisted Romanesque column. With abstract paintings such as those by Jackson Pollock, viewers often experience a sense of bodily involvement with the movements that are implied by physical traces - in brushmarks or paint drippings - of the creative actions of the producer of the work. This also applies to the cut canvaces of Lucio Fontana, where sight of the slashed painting invites a sense of empathetic movement that seems to coincide with the gesture felt to have produced the tear. "

Criticism of the concept of mirror neurons

In the case of mirror neurons, there is an abyss between public fantasies and what can be scientifically, i.e. experimentally, proven, whereby the base of findings in particular is extremely narrow. There have been reservations about the concept of mirror neurons since its discovery, and these are against the popular scientific generalizations and speculations: language, culture, globalization - everything seems to depend on mirror neurons. According to the latest research, what has been assigned to individual cells in a reductionist manner is an achievement of the entire brain and the role of mirror neurons as an explanatory model is significantly smaller than previously claimed. Above all, the already very vaguely defined mirror system is distributed over a large area in the brain, e.g. also in the hippocampus. Presumably, the mirror neurons are more involved Imitations to do and that the bimodal neurons are only involved in selecting a reaction from their own behavior repertoire at the sight of a behavior.

Is it also the result of the mirror neurons that other people are ashamed of others?

As is well known, shame of others is understood to mean the behavior of a person who, at the sight of an embarrassing situation in which another person is, reacts affected as if the mishap had happened to him / her. Shame of others is one of the social emotions, whereby it has a special position among these, because one cannot feel jealous or feel guilty for someone else on behalf of others. In the case of external shame, it is irrelevant whether the person concerned intentionally or unintentionally makes a mistake or whether the person concerned even notices that their behavior is embarrassing.
People with a high level of empathy are more susceptible to embarrassment from other people. Foreign shame is therefore more common in women, which is probably due to their more pronounced ability to empathy is due to the fact that women can generally identify more strongly with people. These emotions develop very early in childhood, whereby one must have the ability to empathize with other people, which usually develops between the ages of seven and nine. In addition, a cognitive understanding of which social norms exist and when they apply must have been developed. Therefore, empathy and identification are essential for being ashamed of others, because if they are missing, the related complementary feeling of malicious joy, in which one also perceives a violation of the norm, but in which the rewarding component is in the foreground. Schadenfreude is less about compassion than about putting yourself above the person concerned who is currently experiencing something embarrassing, whereby the transitions are sometimes fluid, because depending on your motivation and mood, the same situation can trigger either glee or foreign shame also from one to the other social emotion tip over.
This phenomenon of vicarious shame is also independent of whether the person concerned perceives the situation as embarrassing, because the feeling of being ashamed of others also occurs when, for example, a man walks through a pedestrian zone with open trousers and does not even notice it. According to the latest research, observing the embarrassing situations of others activates the same areas of the brain as the sight of someone else's physical pain. Mirror neurons are probably also responsible for this 😉

Curiosities about mirror neurons: "Soccer World Cup: mirror neurons tremble too"

The more what is seen corresponds to previous experiences, especially with regard to the observation of motor activities, the more strongly the mirror neurons fire. So it is also possible that the fans of the victorious team celebrate at a soccer match while the others cry at the same time. People watch “their” team and copy their emotions.
Expert neurons fire harder
The resonance system of the mirror neurons is also responsible for another effect: fans who play or have played a lot of soccer themselves, who know how the game works, can "read" a game better. Valenti: “Studies have shown that these football experts are better able to predict actions during the game. The mirror neurons fire more than others who understand less about football. " In control groups who had never or rarely seen a soccer match and not played it, the mirror neurons did not fire or hardly at all. Valenti: “Mirror neurons apparently enable us to intuitively grasp the intentions of others. And the more so, the better we know these intentions or actions from our own experience. "
source: http://science.orf.at/stories/1740488/ (14-06-04)

More curiosities about mirror neurons: "Activate employee mirror neurons"

“To answer the question of what characterizes good leaders, brain researchers examined chemical-physical processes in the brain at a time when people interact with others. Successful executives therefore succeed in “connecting” their own brains with those of their employees and turning them into a system. You are particularly good at empathizing with others and exploring their moods. This enables them to reinforce positive feelings and attitudes of others. The result: the employees support the goals and activities of their superiors.
What sounds like manipulation and brainwashing is primarily based on knowledge of the role of so-called mirror neurons in the brain. They are responsible for ensuring that the same cells are active in the brain of a person who observes someone else during an activity as those of the person who is actually active. Anyone who observes dancers on a stage activates the same areas of the brain as the dancer himself.
Employees who observe their superiors and unconsciously perceive their mood and behavior become infected - in a good and bad sense. A boss who laughs often and maintains a casual tone also improves the mood in his team. People laugh more often and work is more fun. The team's performance increases. "
source: http://www.business-wissen.de/artikel/mitarbeiterfuehrung-was-fuehrungskraefte-ueber-spiegelneuronen-wissen-sollten/ (15-11-23)

Discovery of the mirror neurons

In the early 1990s, Giacomo Rizzolatti from the University of Parma and his colleagues wanted to use macaques to research how actions are planned and implemented and how this manifests itself in the brain. When these animals reached for peanuts, the corresponding brain activities could be registered. One day the meter also failed when one of the researchers grabbed a nut and not the monkey. The animal sat there completely quietly and just watched the scene, but its brain reacted just as if it were grabbing a nut itself. Apparently the monkey's nerve cells were already sending out signals if he only observed the movement, i.e. That is, they literally reflected the behavior of the observed. Later it was also proven that such mirror neuron systems also exist in the human brain. By involuntarily mirroring the body movements of others, people can understand the movements of others and possibly imitate them better. Complex movements such as dancing trigger similar activity patterns in the brain in spectators as in the performing dancers, whereby in some cases even a kind of training effect arises in the brain. Today it is also discussed that something similar could happen when observing emotions, such as compassion and empathy could be established by such groups of neurons.


Freedberg, D. & Gallese, V. (2007). Motion, emotion and empathy in aesthetic experience. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11, No. p. 197-203.
Sosic-Vasic, Zrinka., Eberhardt, Julia, Bosch, Julia E., Dommes, Lisa, Labek, Karin, Buchheim, Anna. & Viviani, Roberto (2019). Mirror neuron activations in encoding of psychic pain in borderline personality disorder. NeuroImage: Clinical, 22, doi: pii / S2213158219300877.
Stephens, Greg J., Silbert, Lauren J. & Hasson, Uri (2010). Speaker-listener neural coupling underlies successful communication.
http://www.pnas.org/content/suppl/2010/07/14/1008662107.DCSupplemental/pnas.201008662SI.pdf (10-07-09)
Stuttgarter Zeitung from January 31, 2018.
Using http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/mensch/0,1518,708639,00.html(10-07-09)

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