Perhaps one of the greatest unresolved mysteries in the physiology of our brains is the purpose and function of mirror neurons. The mirror neuron, also known as the cubelli neuron is a neuron that fires when an animal acts or observes an action being done by another. A recently published study by Duke University showed that when a monkey observes another reaching for food, mirror neuron in the observing monkey fires, as if the observer was also reaching for food. What makes this research different from others done on mirror neurons is that it has discovered that mirroring, at least in monkeys, may be influenced by social hierarchy, and proximity.
Important points in the study
- Pairs of monkeys interacting during a social task tend to have neurons firing at the same time. This is the phenomenon referred to as interbrain cortical synchronization (ICS) which are episodes of high synchronization of the monkeys’ brains.
- Body movements and other simple functions of the motor cortex may be influenced by the social relationships of the participants.
- Brain activity during ICS could predict how close the animals were to each other.
- Synchronization was at its highest when participants were three feet away from each other – close enough to touch or attack each other.
- ICS was highest when the actor was of higher rank than the observer.
Why it matters
This helps us understand many phenomena in human life such as the Stockholm Syndrome (where victims develop an emotional bond with their captor), the rise of charismatic leaders, the creation of teams, and of course, the wisdom behind the words “Surround yourself with people that reflect who you want to be and how you want to feel”.
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