Mirror, Mirror on the Mind
The sight of a stranger's foot getting hammered induces an instant surge of sympathy within us. Watching a friend nauseate after eating something repulsive quickly causes our own stomachs to turn. This ability to understand and relate to another individual's internal state has provided great motivation for research. One source of explanation arose from research on mirror neurons-which fire both during execution and observation of a behaviour (Rizzollati & Arbib, 1998). This particular class of neurons plays a crucial function in human social interactions. The importance of the mirror neuron system (MNS) for communication can be understood through its influence on nonverbal communication including facial expressions and hand gestures and verbal language. Furthermore, disorders affecting human communication-such as autism and schizophrenia-convey the impression of stemming from a malfunctioning MNS.
Generally, human social interaction involves both verbal and nonverbal forms of communication. Obvious examples of nonverbal communication are facial expressions and hand gestures. A recent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study by Montgomery and Haxby (2008) found evidence supporting the claim that the MNS contains distinct representations for facial expressions and hand gestures. Particularly, this study examined the inferior parietal lobule and the frontal operculum as the potential MNS brain regions involved in nonverbal communication. Further evidence comes from another fMRI study by Montgomery, Isenberg and Haxby (2007)-which demonstrated the activation of the MNS during hand movements used to manipulate objects and hand gestures used to communicate. A third fMRI study by Van, Minderaa and Keysers (2007) highlighted similar results by examining other putative MNS brain regions-inferior frontal gyrus, posterior parietal cortex, insula and amygdala-thought to be associated with facial expressions. Activity spontaneously...
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