Neurology: A Mirror to the World

Empathy with others seems to be due to a type of brain cell called a mirror neuron

Christian Keysers has a good way of making his point.  He shows his audience a clip from a James Bond movie in which a large, hairy spider is climbing over our hero’s naked body.  He then asks the audience what they think the actor playing Bond is feeling.

It is impossible to tell, of course, whether Sean Connery was really revolted and fearful when the scene was being shot, or whether he was actually indifferent, but just acting well.  The point is that the observer can feel – literally feel – Bond’s fear.  This ability not merely to know in an intellectual sense what someone else is feeling, but actually to feel it with them, is an important social attribute. 

Dramatists, novelists and psychologists have known about it for centuries, of course.

  And those who lack it, such as people who are autistic, are at a social disadvantage.  But it is only in the past few years that its neurological basis has begun to be understood.  It seems to rely on a type of nerve cell known as a mirror neuron.  Dr Keysers, who works at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, is one of a band of neurologists that is studying them