Saturday, January 15, 2011

296: Empathy and the Brain

When you look at Amazon for the book of Professor Marco Iacoboni, " Mirroring People: The Science of Empathy and How We Connect with Others" Amazon comes with a number of suggestions of books which might interest you too.

Just look at the titles:

- Mirrors in the Brain: How Our Minds Share Actions, Emotions and Experiences… by Giacomo Rizzolatti

- The Body Has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better
by Sandra Blakeslee

- The Social Neuroscience of Empathy by Jean Decety

- The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society by Frans de Waal

- The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's. Quest for What Makes Us Human
by V. S. Ramachandran

- Social Neuroscience: Integrating Biological and Psychological Explamations of Social Behavior by Eddie Harmon-Jones PhD

- The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy: Healing the Social Brain by Louis Cozolino

- The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis by Jeremy Rifkin

- The Healing Power of Emotion: Affective Neuroscience , Development and Clinical Practice by Diana Fosha

Do you remember the times of Erich From, Abraham Maslow, Karl Rogers, the days of self realization, psychological self-help and titles like "Toward a Psychology of Being", "On Becoming a Person" and so on.

We all read such books and every 18 year old in the late 60s and early 70s wanted to study psychology, myself included. The new insights in personal psychology would bring us greater happiness in life.

In the book titles, which I showed you, you see a big shift of focus. Psychology is out, neuroscience is in. Maslow and Rogers are out, Iacoboni and Ramachandran are in.

Iacoboni is one of the leading scientists in the research of mirror neurons. He has discovered something very interesting. Test persons were read sentences in which certain actions were described like picking up a cup and so on.

When put in an fMRI-scanner it showed that the test persons' brain immediately responded. Of course in the auditory areas of the brain, but in particular in those parts of the brain that were related to the actions as described, the pre-motoric cortex.

What was happening in the brain, was, that it was running a simulation of the action as described. So, you could conclude that simulating the action leads to understanding what is described.

There are indications that this simulation behavior of the brain is absolutely necessary to understand. In further research the scientists disabled the mirror neurons of the test persons with strong magnetic pulses.

This at the very moment that the test persons were listening to the description of certain actions again. The result was amazing. The test persons heard the words loud and clear, but they did not understand what they meant.

One step further was to assume that there were not only mirror neurons in the pre-motoric cortex. In other words, can the brain also play simulations of feelings and emotions?

And yes indeed, that appeared to be the case. Test persons were tickled on their leg with a feather. Then they were put in the scanner and watched a short video of an actor who was tickled with a feather. And the mirror neurons fired.

Same was demonstrated with feelings of disgust or loathing. A small part of the brain, the insula, always fires when we feel disgust..

Test persons had to endure the smell of rotten eggs and after that watched a short video of a man smelling at a glass and then reacting with a grimace of disgust. Again the insula of the test persons fired.

Mirror neurons not only simulate the action but also analyze the meaning or motivation of an action. This means that on a deep neural level, we as human beings are even physically connected with each other.

This is perhaps what Second Life makes such a fun. We are not simply watching our screen and see two avatars dance….. our brain simulates the action. Our nervous systems are in direct contact with each other.

The deepest bond between each other is of course the bond created by empathy. Just recall this title: "The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society" by Frans de Waal

I did mirror neuron research without knowing it in the early 80s, while they were only discovered around 1996. I used to sit in a bar and observe the faces of people.

Then I put on my face the same expression of someone, supposing that I thus could 'feel' and understand the feelings of the other person.

Iacoboni showed test persons faces with emotional expressions, joy, anger, disgust. Then the test persons were asked to imitate the facial expressions. In both situations specific areas of the frontal cortex fired.

As you may conclude from the book titles, the discovery of the mirror neurons may open a way to better understand empathy and social behavior

and as some neuroscientists hope it may open a gateway to a better world by finding out how we can strengthen the power of our mirror neurons system.

The Discussion

[13:22] herman Bergson: Thank you....
[13:22] herman Bergson: You have the floor ^_^
[13:22] BALDUR Joubert: the interesting thing is that mirror neurons react to the say they are a social component in our brain..which propably is genetic,not learning
[13:22] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:23] herman Bergson: Yes Baldur....
[13:23] herman Bergson: Still little is known...but it is intriguing
[13:23] BALDUR Joubert: and animals have them too
[13:23] herman Bergson: My goodness Bejiita made me nervous with all you typing :-)
[13:23] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): i have to read the class on mirror neurons
[13:24] herman Bergson: Oh yes....
[13:24] Bejiita Imako: haha typing?
[13:24] herman Bergson: Yes on my screen at least :-)
[13:24] hannes Breda: firing neurons can be measured....But how we feel as a consequence of that firing is a different question all together...
[13:24] Bejiita Imako: aaah...
[13:24] Bejiita Imako: hehe my avatar hang up or something
[13:24] hannes Breda: and that is where psychology becomes important again
[13:24] Paula Dix: lol
[13:24] BALDUR Joubert: firing is one thing..which synapses are involved another..
[13:25] herman Bergson: There you touch the relation between the physical and the mental hannes...
[13:25] Bejiita Imako: afraid i would post a 200 line message or something?
[13:25] Bejiita Imako: lol
[13:25] Paula Dix: here he was typing too
[13:25] Bejiita Imako: well very interesting stuff came to my mind indeed now and a LOTR of it
[13:25] Bejiita Imako: LOT
[13:25] Bejiita Imako: this mirror thing i really need to check up
[13:26] herman Bergson: Today the Philosophy of Mind is an interdisciplanary study...
[13:27] herman Bergson: But we'll see later in this project how much we know and don't know if we get to the fundamental questions
[13:27] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): seems to me that the mirror neurons tbe able to experience the emotion mustfirst have a foundation of empirical data to relate it to
[13:27] BALDUR Joubert: where the human being should be also regarded as just a species part of nature
[13:27] herman Bergson: At least there is some agreement.....cartesian dualism cant be uphold anymore
[13:27] hannes Breda: how does this relate to the notion of submersive feelings in SL, or the notion of the suspended disbelieve where the old brain convinces the new brain that this is fun, so it should shut op for a while?
[13:28] Paula Dix: I dont know Ari, I just read the class about that "fake" mirror showed to babies
[13:28] herman Bergson: the old brain and the new brain hannes....
[13:28] herman Bergson: you mean the reptile part and the cortex?
[13:28] hannes Breda: yes
[13:28] BALDUR Joubert: i think what hannes brings up is the question of brain-and the contents of the brain/memory/learned/culture
[13:28] hannes Breda: yes i do:)
[13:29] hannes Breda: but i am a psychologist:))
[13:29] herman Bergson: Hold on.....not too may issues at a time....
[13:29] Paula Dix: sorry, "fake" square! :)))) mirror got in i don't know how
[13:30] herman Bergson: What you refer to Aristotle is the Nature / Nurture problem
[13:30] herman Bergson: Tests wis new borns reveal a little of what is nature....
[13:30] herman Bergson: But we are still guessing and generally is assumed......ok 50 % - 50%
[13:31] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): to believe that there is a connection between individuals that llow s the passing of emotions from one to the other is a mystical thing
[13:31] herman Bergson: Let me see....the hannes issue was which part of the brain has to shut up ^_^
[13:31] herman Bergson: In SL...:-)
[13:32] Paula Dix: yes, how babies could see the fake square if they never had seen one before? Maybe its the same with emotions and the rest for these mirror neurons
[13:32] Bejiita Imako: or how they can recognize a spider without have seen one
[[13:32] BALDUR Joubert: do they? how you know
[13:32] Bejiita Imako: cause preprogrammed from or african heritage cause there are dangerous spiders and snakes there
[13:32] Bejiita Imako: to help to survive
[13:33] herman Bergson: Yes....
[13:33] Bejiita Imako: thats an interesting thing
[13:33] hannes Breda: the old brain again
[13:33] herman Bergson: Well Bejiita ...that was a possible interpretation.....but sounds plausible
[13:33] Ciska Riverstone: or do they just mirror the feelings of their parent when they c a spider?
[13:33] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:33] herman Bergson: from an evolutionary point of view
[13:33] hannes Breda: "look out, this is a snake!!" new brain: "no, it is just a picture..No worry'
[13:34] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): :))
[13:34] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): yes Hannes
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:34] Paula Dix: lol
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: haha
[13:34] herman Bergson: Yes hannes I that order...
[13:34] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): joint control of us
[13:34] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): bipartisan
[13:35] herman Bergson: Well...welcome to your mirror neurons.....a new experience and intensely used in SL ^_^
[13:35] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): oops, is that old fashioned Cartesian thinking?
[13:36] herman Bergson: What do you mean Aristotle...I would no way
[13:36] hannes Breda: and the theory is that on SL we l;et the old brain deceive us for a while (it is a picture, but i like experiencing it for a while as a genuine snake, because it is fun)
[13:36] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): dualism?
[13:36] hannes Breda: sorry, herman, back to the mirror neurons:)
[13:36] herman Bergson: no dualism so far in sight Aristotle :-)
[13:36] hannes Breda: lol
[13:37] Bejiita Imako: aa yes i don't just see a picture, i feel almost like I am with u all for real because we comunicate and do things that are shown in here on the screen at same time
[13:37] Bejiita Imako: so feel connected
[13:37] Bejiita Imako: and not alone
[13:37] hannes Breda: indeed
[13:37] Paula Dix: for me it is real
[13:37] Paula Dix: made of pixels, real pixels
[13:37] hannes Breda: it is...for a while
[13:37] herman Bergson: Yes true Bejiita....
[13:37] Bejiita Imako: and SL is the only computer program that has given me actual memories
[13:38] herman Bergson: if you assume that our brains are running simulations at top speed now....we really feel and communicate here
[13:38] Bejiita Imako: no other thing have done that at least in thois way
[13:38] Paula Dix: yes, sensory like its limited, but all real
[13:38] Bejiita Imako: yes
[13:38] Bejiita Imako: really interesting
[13:38] herman Bergson: Well..if you take SL as a simulation of RL
[13:38] Paula Dix: i guess we have that social thing so necessary for humans here
[13:39] Bejiita Imako: yes
[13:39] herman Bergson: and our eyses seeing it on a screen make our brain run simulations in our brain....interesting idea
[13:39] Bejiita Imako: I live alone here but thanx to sl i never fel alone in the evnings
[13:39] herman Bergson: Yes Paula, I think so too
[13:39] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): the pixels are communication tools
[13:39] hannes Breda: very interesting this notion of the neurons firing the same way as if it was 'reality', because then it becomes reality
[13:39] Bejiita Imako: parties friends and lot of fun 9 torture my neighbors with loud music
[13:39] Bejiita Imako: lol
[13:39] Bejiita Imako: +
[13:39] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): WaaaHaHAhahAHA! AhhhhHAhahhAHhahHAH! haha!
[13:39] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): of course it is nothing but reality
[13:40] herman Bergson: at least a mental and inner reality hannes, yes
[13:40] BALDUR Joubert: well..ari.. before pictures people communicated too and shared thought and emotioons..
[13:40] Paula Dix: yes Ari, maybe it add a sense (like taste or hearing) to us
[13:40] hannes Breda: is there another kind?
[13:40] BALDUR Joubert: pictures is just as visual plus
[13:40] Paula Dix: lol Bekita
[13:40] herman Bergson: Oh....
[13:40] Paula Dix: Bejita, sorry
[13:40] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:40] Qwark Allen: i usually say it`s a virtual world with real feelings
[13:40] herman Bergson: seeing pictures fire mirror neurons constantly...
[13:40] Bejiita Imako: true
[13:41] Paula Dix: well, i learned here that Plato said everything is virtual
[13:41] Alexia Rodeyn: simulation is nothing but an artificial model of a real thing and if so , SL is a simulation for us
[13:41] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): my mind allows me to feel all the emotions just like the physical world
[13:41] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): :-)
[13:41] hannes Breda: a shadow on the wall
[13:41] herman Bergson: Yes Qwark that it is in my opinion too
[13:41] Alexia Rodeyn: i agree on that
[13:41] herman Bergson: I love this brain...nice toy!
[13:42] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): because the body perfoms the same function of communication
[13:42] Paula Dix: how much i missed being here in these months i couldn't come was very, very real
[13:42] Qwark Allen: and yet still in evolution
[13:42] Paula Dix: lol herman
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: hehe
[13:42] herman Bergson: Yes Qwark, but for that we have to wait a 50.000 years to see results :-)
[13:43] herman Bergson: Maybe reincarnation yet is fun....:-)
[13:43] Alarice Beaumont: lol lots of grey hair until then lol
[13:43] Qwark Allen: we never know
[13:43] herman Bergson: Well thank you all for this nice discussion....
[13:43] Qwark Allen: sometimes evolution leaps forward fast
[13:44] herman Bergson: It is time for me to fire some other mirror neurons I think ^_^
[13:44] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): the body sprouted from the ancient brain and the cerebral cortex has made good use of it since
[13:44] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:44] hannes Breda: could this be bad for our bodies, herman? Our neurons firing, we ready to perform the bodily actions that go with it and...poof!! Inertia
[13:44] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): hope i make it tuesday
[13:44] herman Bergson: Yes Aristotle....and so should you ^_^
[13:44] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): will try
[13:44] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:44] herman Bergson: Class dismissed ^_^
[13:44] Qwark Allen: very nice these classes about neurons
[13:44] Qwark Allen: thank you
[13:44] Qwark Allen: ¸¸.☆´ ¯¨☆.¸¸`☆** **☆´ ¸¸.☆¨¯`☆ H E R MA N ☆´ ¯¨☆.¸¸`☆** **☆´ ¸¸.☆¨¯`
[13:44] hannes Breda: bye friends
[13:44] Bejiita Imako: this get more and more interesting
[13:44] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:44] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): interesting yes
[13:44] CONNIE Eichel: great class :)
[13:44] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): Bye, Bye ㋡
[13:44] herman Bergson: thank you all
[13:45] Bejiita Imako: cu ㋡
[13:45] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): the pixels seem to be doing the same fine job :)
[13:45] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): Thank you Professor
[13:45] Alexia Rodeyn: thank you !!!
[13:45] Bejiita Imako: cu next time
[13:45] bergfrau Apfelbaum: ty herman!! very interesting! was that!!!
[13:45] Alarice Beaumont: really interesting again... thanks Herman
[13:46] bergfrau Apfelbaum: ***** APPPPPPPLLLLAAAUUUSSSSEEEEEEE***********
[13:46] herman Bergson: My pleasure Bergie!
[13:46] CONNIE Eichel: bye all, great class, till next time :)
[13:46] herman Bergson: Bye CONNIE
[13:46] CONNIE Eichel: :)

[13:46] Qwark Allen: paarty next ^^
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: cu connie
[13:46] CONNIE Eichel: cu :)
[13:46] herman Bergson: You look nice again ...:-)
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: YAY! (yay!)
[13:46] Ciska Riverstone: Thank You herman
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: time to scare my neighbors again
[13:47] Bejiita Imako: lol
[13:47] Bejiita Imako: and have some more fun
[13:47] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:47] herman Bergson: Go for it Bejiita !!!
[13:47] Bejiita Imako: hehe
[13:47] Ciska Riverstone: bye all
[13:47] Paula Dix: bye!
[13:47] bergfrau Apfelbaum: see u next week! byebye class :-)
[13:47] herman Bergson: Bye Ciska well :-)
[13:47] hannes Breda: bye:)
[13:47] Alexia Rodeyn: bye everyone
[13:47] Bejiita Imako: hugds
[13:47] Bejiita Imako: hugs
[13:47] herman Bergson: smiles
[13:47] Paula Dix: hannes, i remember seeing something
[13:47] bergfrau Apfelbaum: byebye herr professor :o)
[13:47] herman Bergson: thnx Bejiita ^_^
[13:48] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:48] hannes Breda: oh, paula, what?
[13:48] herman Bergson: Bye Bergie :-)
[13:48] herman Bergson: See you soon ^_*
[13:48] Paula Dix: in a tv news, that if you think you are running it will have the same effect on body
[13:48] Paula Dix: or, 3x less
[13:48] herman Bergson: Yes Paula...that is the attraction of action movies...
[13:48] Paula Dix: you need to think youre runnig 1:30hs to have the same effect as really running 30 mins
[13:48] hannes Breda: yes, but i have heard that the adrenaline that builds up but is not used is bad for us
[13:49] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): good bye everyone, thatnksagian Herman
[13:49] Paula Dix: yes, then SL wont be bad on body
[13:49] herman Bergson: Bye Aristotle
[13:49] Bejiita Imako: bye Ari
[13:49] Paula Dix: provided you make your av move a lot! :))))
[13:49] hannes Breda: lol
[13:49] Bejiita Imako: hehe
[13:49] herman Bergson: grins
[13:49] hannes Breda: in whatever way?
[13:49] Bejiita Imako: well dancing is fun so
[13:49] herman Bergson: I KNEW you would ask hannes lol
[13:49] hannes Breda: lol
[13:49] Paula Dix: lol depends what part you want to exercise
[13:50] Bejiita Imako: wish there was a way to control my avatar through rl movements as well
[13:50] Bejiita Imako: would be cool
[13:50] Paula Dix: Bejita i dream of that, imagine neural control
[13:50] herman Bergson: there are options Bejiita...
[13:50] hannes Breda: like the Wii
[13:50] Paula Dix: lol good but still not there
[13:50] Bejiita Imako: kinect i think can be made to control all sort of stuff
[13:50] hannes Breda: there is already a way to use the wii to control movements in sl, i have heard]
[13:50] Bejiita Imako: for the xbox
[13:50] herman Bergson: in fact a matter of simple programming and wearing a sensor suit which they also use to "record' dances
[13:51] Paula Dix: ah! interesting!
[13:51] Bejiita Imako: they deliberatley opened for it to be used in general I think
[13:51] Paula Dix: yes but if neural directly this can be more perfect than FL
[13:51] herman Bergson: yes....USB cable in your ear Paula
[13:51] hannes Breda: or any other part...
[13:52] Bejiita Imako: hehe
[13:52] Paula Dix: lol
[13:52] herman Bergson: coughs
[13:52] hannes Breda: sorry
[13:52] Paula Dix: There is a book by Scott Card, the guy has mechanical eyes
[13:52] Bejiita Imako: connect a usb contact to the brain and plug the computer in
[13:52] Bejiita Imako: hehe
[13:52] hannes Breda: yes i know that one, paula...
[13:52] herman Bergson: yeah would be cool Bejiita
[13:52] Paula Dix: one is to see, the other to connect, he loves to use the cable to record what he sees and make other people unease
[13:52] Bejiita Imako: could be useful
[13:53] Paula Dix: nice book except that he uses that of making the atheist being negative, depressive, wasted
[13:53] hannes Breda: ah yes, the same with his other books
[13:53] Paula Dix: Carl Bach??
[13:54] hannes Breda: Scott Card
[13:54] Bejiita Imako: hmm im atheist and im certainley not that
[13:54] Paula Dix: True
[13:54] Paula Dix: lol same here
[13:54] herman Bergson: nor am I..^_^
[13:54] hannes Breda: would you allow me to invite you 2 as friends?
[13:54] Bejiita Imako: or to say if i can get scientific proof for god THEN i will believe it but since i've never seen a god or ghosts and such i don't believe in them
[13:54] herman Bergson: I guess it is an American author?!
[13:54] Paula Dix: one of his books that scape it, i think, is that fairy tale, Hope something...
[13:55] Paula Dix: yes, american and from that church, whats the name?
[13:55] Paula Dix: from Salt Lake City
[13:55] herman Bergson: Mormons
[13:55] hannes Breda: in the end he was rather boring...I love SF btw:)
[13:55] Paula Dix: yes!
[13:55] Bejiita Imako: aa yes
[13:55] Paula Dix: lol me too hannes
[13:55] hannes Breda: thank you, friends
[13:56] Bejiita Imako: time to move on now
[13:56] Bejiita Imako: cu soon
[13:56] Bejiita Imako: :
[13:56] herman Bergson: Bye Bejiita
[13:56] hannes Breda: for me, too, bye now:)
[13:56] Paula Dix: i just discovered Bruce Sterling, very interesting
[13:56] Bejiita Imako: tnx paula
[13:56] herman Bergson: Take care
[13:56] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:56] Paula Dix: :)))
[13:57] Paula Dix: ops, bejita is gone before i could say...
[13:57] herman Bergson: he'll be here next class ^_^
[13:57] herman Bergson: then you can say .....
[13:57] Paula Dix: lol would talk to him about 1000 avatars, his is interesting, would be nice htere
[13:59] Paula Dix: ok, time to go take care of dinner!!!
[13:59] Paula Dix: thats the worst of having just two people at home :)
[13:59] BALDUR Joubert: bon appetit paula:)
[13:59] Paula Dix: ty :)))
[14:00] herman Bergson: Yes...have fun Paula
[14:00] Paula Dix: oh, its true, ive read September and half october, not july and august, on the site
[14:01] Paula Dix: ok, let me run! kiss!
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