Authors: Di Pellegrino, G., Fadiga, L., Fogassi, L., Gallese, V., & Rizzolatti, G.
Title: Understanding motor events: a neurophysiological study
Summary: Research emitting from the University of Parma in the 1990s changed cognitive science forever. This was the place where the mirror neuron was identified. At first sight it might not appear to have a direct relevance with meditation, but mirror neurons demonstrate a characteristic of the human brain central to understanding how we interconnect with each other. Under certain conditions we are directly affected by what we see other people do. This phenomenon is not restricted to humans.
If we see others undertaking a behavior that reflects something we have done, it will fire our mirror neurons as if we were doing it. This effect is not linked to species it is about how closely observable behaviors correspond our own motor repertoire.
Stephen Gene Morris
In the original experiment a macaque monkey demonstrated mirror neuron activity when a human experimenter undertook tasks that it had been trained to do. The implications for meditators include:
- Firstly it is a weakening to self-other duality, humans and animals can, under relatively common conditions share action potentials in mirror neurons.
- Secondly there is a clear relationship between what we see and how this affects our brain. It seems plausible that if we see kind acts that we ourselves have done in the past our mirror neurons will fire as if we were administering the kindness. The same would apply for unkind acts.
I have written a paper on this experiment which can be made available on request. The original literature (linked below) is very readable but it is the first in a series of the Parma Mirror Neuron Experiments.
Perspective: Embodied cognition, neuroscience, mirror neurons