Mirror neurons are responsible for things like motor skills, language and empathy. Mirror neurons were an accidental discovery found by an Italian research team in Parma in the early 1990s. By 1996, Giacomo Rizzolatti and Vittorio Gallese were studying individual neurons in monkeys. A monkey would be given an object to handle and observe. As they would reach for the thing, a researcher realized that a neuron in the monkey’s brain fired the exact same way when it had picked up the item. The research team would follow up on their new discovery and found that there were many of the same neurons located in the monkey’s frontal lobes, it’s just before the motor cortex, which was given the name mirror neurons. Mirror neurons in humans and monkeys activate when they perform a motor act or observe another human or monkey engage in the same show. These neurons are also responsible for more than just a motor act. Mirror neurons are connected to emotions in humans.
The frontal lobe is activated when people experience emotions such as happiness, pain, disgust, and seeing another person experience emotion. It is evident that there is a neural basis for empathy—that is, the identification or vicarious experiencing feelings in others based on visual and other cues. A study was done at the University of California, Las Angeles (U.C.L.A.) concluded that doctors and scientists can make the right decision in response to how the brain responds when people watch someone else experience pain. The scientist found that those responses predict whether people will be inclined to avoid causing harm to others when facing moral dilemmas. They would show the scientists and doctors movies and television shows like M.A.S.H. of people doing painful surgeries during wartimes. The idea was if seeing these people in pain during these highly stressful situations would these viewers make the right decisions under similar conditions. These mirror neurons become active a lot earlier than scientists had first thought.
Early researchers in the new field of mirror neurons believed babies as early as six months old will engage in delayed imitation. Although later findings and research now show that a newborn as before as 0.7 – 71 hours old can imitate an adult by opening their mouths and sticking out their tongues. It is also now believed that mirror neurons relate to the built-in human capacity to acquire language. They are also apparently connected with observational learning and, perhaps, with gender differences in empathy. Mirror neurons not only can teach us motor functional skills, but also things like how to speak a language, or perhaps most important, mirror neurons teach us things like empathy and love.
Rathus, S. A., & Rinaldi, C. M. (2015). In Voyages in development (2nd , p. 200). Nelson Education.