Tuesday, 14 December 2010

All about mirror neurons: One can gain expertise in any fied by just observing experts do their work

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Dec 14: One can gain expertise in any field including business and sports by just observing experts do their work, says behavioural sciences expert Prof VS Ramachandran.

According to Prof Ramachandran, the brain contains "mirror neurons" which help one learn things through observation. They also help in learning through imitation. The mirror neurons will unlock the greatest mysteries of the human mind.

Prof  Ramachandran, who is the director of the Centre for Brain and Cognition, University of California, San Diego, said the mirror neurons would fire when someone does a job and this is repeated in those who closely watch the activity. In other words, if you are inclined to learn some difficult task and observe an expert perform it, your mirror neurons will help you to imitate the expert and learn expertise from him.

The mirror neurons are so powerful that a person, who observes someone pricking his hand with a needle, will feel the pain even though the observer does not actually do it.

"Cells in the brain's anterior cingulate area, which normally fire when you poke the patient with a needle ("pain neurons"), will also fire when the patient watches another patient being poked. The mirror neurons, it would seem, dissolve the barrier between self and others. I call them empathy neurons," Prof Ramachandran said.

He said the mirror neurons are responsible for why people, subconsciously, imitate others. Mirror neurons would do for psychology what DNA did for biology by providing a unifying framework and help explain a host of mental abilities that have hitherto remained mysterious and inaccessible to experiments.

The emergence of a sophisticated mirror neuron system set the stage for the emergence, in early hominids, of a number of uniquely human abilities such as proto-language, empathy, and the ability to adopt another's point of view.

He said intelligence is not linked to race, colour and nationality, though it has genetic basis. The average IQ levels in the West have increase by 15 to 20 per cent in the recent times, he said, adding that such a study was not done in India.

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