Mirror Neurons Essay

1105 words - 5 pages

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by a severe and persistent impairment of reciprocal socialization, impairments in communication, a narrow range of interests, language and communication abnormalities, and repetitive or unusual behaviors that appear in the first three years of life (Kolb & Wishaw, 2009; Shoemaker, 2012; Corona, Flammia, & Coxxarelli, 2013). The disorder is referred to as ‘autism spectrum disorder’ to include children and adults with either mild or severe symptoms (Kolb & Wishaw, 2009). fMRI studies of subjects with autism compared to controls confirmed that children with autism had dysfunction of the mirror neurons in their cortex. ...view middle of the document...

They also may perform certain tasks well if they do not involve social understanding. Consequently the lack of social interchange in children with autism is often explained as a product of defective mental modules dedicated to social cognition (Kolb & Wishaw, 2009; Sinigaglia & Sparaci, 2010). It has been theorized that the abnormalities in social cognition in autism result from an abnormality in the amygdaloprefrontal circuit (Kolb & Wishaw, 2009).

Experiencing one’s own emotions or empathizing with another’s emotions involves an activation of a mirror neuron network and is a way of socializing with others. When confronted with peers’ emotions, people empathize with people’s feelings; one acts as if one experiences the same feelings. Shared emotional feelings can be traced back to mirror neuron mechanisms. Emotions can be subdivided into categories: positive emotions such as happiness or surprise that may encourage novel thoughts and actions; and negative emotions such as anger or disgust that might evoke fear related responses such as defensive behavior or autonomic arousal (Schulte-Rüther, Markowitsch, Fink, & Piefke, 2007; Schraa-Tam, Rietdijk, Verbeke, Dietvorst, van den Berg, Bagozzi, & De Zeeuw, 2012).

A key aspect of social interaction is the inference of other persons’ emotional states by evaluating their facial expressions (Ward, 2010). Facial expression is one of the most obvious cues to emotion (Kolb & Wishaw, 2009). Facial expressions can help us to gain access to someone’s feelings and may act as triggers of empathy. Empathy refers to the ability to appreciate other’s points of view and share their experiences (Ward, 2010). Empathy is based upon processes of psychological inferences about other persons’ mental and emotional states occurring within a specific social context (Schulte-Rüther, Markowitsch, Fink, & Piefke, 2007).
Empathy plays a fundamental social role. It allows the sharing of experiences, needs, and goals across individuals (Carr, et al., 2003). The more people tend to imitate others, the more empathetic they tend to be. Consequently, one way of empathizing is through the imitation of the facial expressions and body postures of other people (Shoemaker, 2012). To empathize, we need to demonstrate actions associated with the emotions we are witnessing. This empathic resonance occurs via communication between action representation and limbic areas provided by the insula. Anomalies in this circuit could determine impairments in understanding the emotions of others and the inability to "empathize" with them (Carr, et al., 2003).

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