Tagged: Mirror Neurons
Most of us have heard about them but only a few appreciate the power of them. It was more than 20 years ago that scientists discovered the fascinating mirror neurons. It was at the University of Parma, Italy where the first glimpse of mirror neurons occurred. The study’s focus was actually to examine motor neurons involved in hand and mouth actions in macaque monkeys. The basic procedure of the experiment involved monkeys reaching for food while researchers recorded firing in particular neurons. What these researchers found was that some neurons actually fired even when the monkey was not moving but was just watching someone else perform an action. So, one may easily deduce that mirror neurons are neurons that fire both when an animal performs an action and when an animal observes someone else perform an action. Nearly 20 years after the initial macaque monkey experiment mirror neurons studies are still generating fascinating results. The reason for this fascination is that mirror neurons are at the base of extremely important functions such as socialization, empathy and teaching.
More recent discoveries have shown that mirror neurons are critical in the interpretation of both facial expressions and body language. Moreover mirror neurons enable us to understand, empathize and socialize with others. As studies have shown, autistic individuals have trouble understanding other people´s intentions and feelings. Autistic individuals cannot understand the intentions of others while observing their actions. This is believed, at least in part, because autistic individuals have a malfunctioning mirror neuron system. This malfunctioning system disables these individuals’ ability to even try and comprehend someone else’s actions based on observation. In contrast to autistic individuals, people with well functioning mirror neuron system have no problem understanding other people’s intentions, which makes mirror neurons so important.
Magic and neuroscience are not two commonly associated topics. Yet we don’t realize how pertinent these sleights of hand are to certain neural processes. Have you ever been walking down the street and been approached by a street magician? You say “bring it on mister” and think: I’m smarter than this dude. If I pay close enough attention to what he’s doing there’s no way he can trick me. But despite your best efforts, your wallet ends up in his hand and your chutzpah on the ground.
Based on a video from Scientific American, it appears that magicians are pseudo-neuroscientists. In the video neuroscientists Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde analyze the work of street illusionist Apollo Robbins. Macknik and Martinez-Conde explain that magicians rely upon something called ‘active misdirection’ for their tricks. By using verbal cues and focusing his eyes on his left hand Apollo has directed your attention there. He then proceeds to snipe your wallet out of your back pocket with some quick movements of his right hand.
He probably threw in a couple jokes about the ol’ ball-and-chain or your hideous sweater, right? Turns out it’s difficult to pay attention to all of your surroundings while you’re laughing.
According to another slightly far-fetched theory, magicians take advantage of ‘mirror neurons’ as well. Mirror neurons help us feel sympathy or, in this case, cause us to act similarly to the person we are interacting with. So when Apollo looks at his left hand your mirror neurons fire, cause you to follow his gaze, and ‘poof’ goes your wallet.
Watch the video from Scientific American here.