Last year I suggested that mirror neurons are the most hyped concept in neuroscience. Discovered in the 90s by neuroscientists in Italy studying monkeys, these are motor cells in the brain (involved in the control of movement) that are also activated – mirror-like – by the sight of the same movement by others. Thankfully a new open access review has just been published that provides us with a calm update on what we know so far about these fascinating cells.
First, here’s some background on the hype. Neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran says these cells shaped our civilisation; in fact he says they underlie what it is to be human – being responsible for our powers of empathy, language and the emergence of human culture, including the widespread use of tools and fire. When mirror neurons don’t work properly, Ramachandran believes the result is autism.
BY CHRISTIAN JARRETT