Have you ever experienced contagious yawning? There must have been a time when you saw someone yawning with his mouth open wide and unconsciously did the same. You may also have experienced your face mimicking the expressions or the slight muscle movements in the face of the person sitting and talking before you.
Just like the reflections in a mirror. Such phenomena occur involuntarily regardless of our will. Whether involuntary or voluntary, the contraction of the muscles and the occurrence of such movement indicate that the associated motor program has been executed in our central nervous system. What is the reason behind the phenomenon of unconsciously mimicking the movements of another person?
Mirror neurons are what provide us with the explanation in a neurophysiological approach. Mirror neurons refer to the nerve cells that are activated once you observe someone else practicing a certain movement, or when you make the same movement of your own. The name was given because of its resemblance to the reflection in a mirror.
This mirror neuron, considered to be the most groundbreaking discovery in the history of neuroscience, was first discovered in 1995 by Giacomo Rizzolatti, who is known as Einstein of Italy as the neuroscientist of the University of Parma. The existence of the mirror neurons was found by coincidence. In Giacomo Rizzolatti’s laboratory of the University of Parma, a research was conducted on the motor area of a monkey’s brain. After inserting electrodes in the Ventral premotor cortex of the monkey’s cerebrum, the monkey was instructed to eat food with its hand. While the monkey was carrying out the task, the activation of the Ventral premotor cortex in the cerebrum was recorded with sounds of a bell and braille.
During the break time of the research, one of the research team members pulled a prank on the monkey by eating some of its food. Then the bell rang and the braille was recorded. Surprised, the researcher reported the case to Giacomo Rizzolatti, who began an in-depth study on such response. He designed three situations as the pictures above and compared the responses of the Ventral premotor cortex in the cerebrum.
- The response of the Ventral premotor cortex when the monkey watches the movement of another monkey eating the food with its hand
- The response of the Ventral premotor cortex when the monkey watches the movement of a human eating the food with his hand
- The response of the Ventral premotor cortex when the monkey makes the movement of eating the food with its hand
Results of the comparison showed that the brain activity was similar for all three cases. With such finding as he basis, Giacomo Rizzolatti announced that within the motor area of the Ventral premotor cortex in the cerebrum exists the mirror neuron, which responses and becomes active just by watching the movement of another being.
Based on the research, a mirror may be adopted in the process of stroke rehabilitation training. For example, if you place a mirror before you when walking, you can check whether your legs are symmetrical, enabling you to observe and assess your manner of walking over a long period of time.
There are many cases of when the adoption of mirrors in the rehabilitation training helps in better control of movements in the affected side (the part suffering from hemiplegia due to stroke, the part of greater difficulty in movement), because watching yourself in the mirror makes it easier for you to concentrate on your movements.