Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Mirror Neurons

I decided to do some further research on mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are a special class of neurons that respond when watching an action be performed. The response of these neurons is similar to the action actually being performed even though it is only being watched. Researchers recorded brain activity of monkeys which showed that these neurons fired when the monkey watched the experimenter perform a object-directed action such as grasping a piece of food. Researchers have proposed that these neurons give humans the ability to understand other intentions and emotions. These neurons are important for social behavior. It is also proposed that these neurons do not work correctly in those who are diagnosed with autism which is why they have deficits with social behavior. These neurons allow us to feel empathy for people by seeing their intentions and to actually mirror their feelings. They also assist in copying others movements. V.S. Ramachandran suggests that mirror neurons exist in humans due to studying patients who have anosognosia. These patients suffered from a right hemisphere stroke and have complete paralysis of the left side of their body but these patients deny their paralysis. Some of these patients denied not only their own paralysis, but also denied other patients paralysis even though they were visibly paralyzed. Ramachandran proposes that these patients suffer damage to their mirror neurons because to make judgments about another person's movement, you need to simulate corresponding movement in your own brain and need mirror neurons to do so.

   Further research on mirror neurons will help increase the success of new treatment methods for autism. Neurofeedback is a new treatment for children with autism that helps enhance mirror neuron function. These kinds of studies can help children with autism to learn and train their brains and enable them to decrease the Autism Spectrum Disorder symptoms they suffer from. I think these treatments are beneficial and can be favored over medications because they are actually changing the child's brain and allowing them to change the way they think. The amount of plasticity in the brain is interesting and with the right kind of treatment, it can help improve disorders and unwanted behaviors. By using neurofeedback treatment, parents do not need to worry about unwanted and dangerous side effects of the medications there children are taking. Future research involving neurofeedback and Autism Spectrum Disorder will help children who are diagnosed with the disorder to cope better and reduce symptoms. Here is a video of Ramachandran explaining Autism as well as mirror neurons and biofeedback.

Ramachandran, V. S. (n.d.). Mirror neurons and imitation learning as the driving force behind "the great leap forward" in human evolution. Retrieved from http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/ramachandran/ramachandran_p1.html

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