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Mirror neurons – Discovery, significance and role in social cognition

Author: 
Jerusha Santa Packyanathan and Dr. S. Gowri Sethu
Subject Area: 
Health Sciences
Abstract: 

Objective: To review the literature for evidence based understanding of mirror neurons, its discovery, and significance in social cognition. Background: Mirror neurons are a type of brain cell that respond when we perform an action and when we witness someone else perform the same action. They possess the fascinating property of being activated by the performance as well as the observation of specific motor actions. It is widely assumed that mirror neurons were designed by evolution to enable action understanding. That is, the neuron "mirrors" the behavior of the other, as though the observer was acting. It was first discovered in the ventral premotor cortex (area 5) of the monkey (Rhesus macaque). Recent research has discovered these neurons invarious parts of the human brain including the somatosensory cortex. These areas are thought to make the observer feel what it’s like to move in the observed manner. Mirror neurons play an important role in understanding the actions of other people, and for learning new skills by imitation. It is believed to play a role in various aspects of cognition, observed action, mind skills, and language abilities. Design: A systematic review of original research papers investigating mirror neuron systems in humans and its effect in social cognition like imitation, language, emotion, empathy and learning was conducted. Literature was sourced from articles and reviews in PubMed. Results and Conclusions: Mirror neurons play a significant role in intentional thought, subsequent action and interpretation in a person as well as that of others. Social interaction may have a neuroscientific basis although more research is needed to evaluate the underlying mechanisms involved.

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