We often think of ourselves as people with their own personal identities but what if I told you that our imitations of other people make us up? From walking, to eating and even learning a new instrument or sport, we used and continue to use imitation to develop our own skills and personalities. Surprisingly, this ability of great importance to imitate comes from a small group of neurons in our brain, mirror neurons.
It’s interesting that an ability that we relied on for practically our entire lifetime comes from a small group of minuscule neurons. As unbelievable as it sounds, it’s true. So, what are mirror neurons?
What are mirror neurons?
Before we even know what a mirror neuron is, we should know that a neuron is a nerve cell. Specifically, it’s “a specialized cell transmitting nerve impulses”, as defined by the Google Dictionary. On the other hand, mirror neurons are neurons that “mirror” the actions of others. They also stimulate the same emotions others would feel while doing that action. Consequently, the mirror neuron system plays an imperative role in the early stages of childhood development and even emotions like empathy in humans.
Originating from the 1980’s and 1990’s, the first discovery may sound ancient. It started with a group of neurophysiologists from the University of Parma who were experimenting with monkeys. Initially, they were observing the neurons stimulated in hand and mouth actions like eating. Interestingly, they observed that certain neurons responded when a monkey observed a human eating and copied it. Subsequently, this lead to the research development of mirror neurons.
Mirror neurons contribute to our empathetic emotions and our understanding of other people’s perspectives. Even helping our learning abilities and cognitive thinking, mirror neurons are another one of the scientific roles that work behind the scenes in our daily lives. We have yet to know the specific roles they play but until then, we can marvel at the work they do as we continue to develop our skills through imitation.