Everyone has experienced at one point or another. Whether it's watching the football game on television or a sad movie. I'm talking about the emotional feelings you get when watching someone else, perhaps on television. The moments where you feel like you're actually in the game or you find yourself smiling or crying while watching that heart-wrenching movie. One of the more recent explanations for this is the discovery of the function of "mirror neurons" in the brain. The textbook briefly covered the basic idea of mirror neurons and the affects they may have on human behavior. Mirror neurons may be responsible for feelings such as empathy and may play an interesting role in learning.
These mirror neurons were originally found accidentally in an experiment with monkeys. Scientists at a laboratory in Parma, Italy, where researching a neuron that fired every time the monkey grabbed a peanut. One day the monkey was just sitting there when he observed one of the scientists grab one of the peanuts. When the scientist grabbed the peanut, the same cell that fired when the monkey grabbed the peanut also fired when the scientist grabbed the peanut. This implies that one of the same neurons is used whether watching someone do something or actually doing it yourself.
Similar results were found in humans. In this video a man is shown multiple pictures of people with different facial expressions and asked to imitate each one and his brain is scanned. The activity is then repeated except he simply looks at the pictures and doesn't move. The results of the scan showed that the "mirror area" that is busy in the brain when he made the facial expressions was the same area that was busy when looking at the pictures.
These mirror neurons may explain why we get so excited watching sporting events. Our brains are firing in ways similar to the players in the game so we too feel like we are actually in the game. We feel stressed or sad when our team is losing and shout and scream when our team is winning. It's the same with movies, when we see a sad scene, often times we too feel sad. Our brains our linked to the emotions portrayed by the actors on the scene. Is this why we also wince at the sight of other people experiencing pain? Do we actually feel a little bit of their pain because or brains are acting in similar ways?
One other interesting finding that I found interesting in the above video was the connection between mirror neurons and autism. The video explains that children with autism may not have the same mirror neuron activity as people without it. The video explains that maybe people with autism don't have the additional mirror neuron help to assist in reading others emotions and body language. This finding has not been proven, it is simply a suggestion that would have to be further experimented.