Friday, October 20, 2006

Mirror Neurons -- Biological Basis of Group Support

Recent research into mirror neurons points to a biological basis for the effectiveness of group support. These specialized brain cells were discovered by accident when researchers studying monkey brains found that cells that fired when a monkey grasped food also fired when the monkey saw another grasping food. The cells mirrored the action of the other animal. Subsequent research discovered mirror neurons widely distributed throughout the human brain.

Mirror neurons make it possible for us to experience the actions, feelings, and intentions of others as if they were our own, without having to perform elaborate rational deductions. An article in the current Scientific American suggests that, because of mirror neurons, the common expression, "I feel your pain," can be literally true. Source. Mirror neurons are involved in imitation, one of the most important forms of learning. Mirror neurons are also thought to be the foundation of emotional resonance or empathy, a key ingredient in professional and lay psychotherapy. It follows that mirror neurons are very probably the biological basis of many of the processes that are at work in mutual aid groups. The process of sober-to-sober reinforcement that empowers the participants' sober selves plausibly rests, biologically, on mirror neurons.

In a related article, researchers explore the hypothesis that damage to mirror neurons is the cause of some of the symptoms identified in many types of autism. Lacking functioning mirror neurons, some autistic children are asocial and lack empathy. Work is being done to see what can be done to stimulate or repair mirror neurons so as to make inroads against this condition. Source.

No comments: