Budimir Zdravkovic

PhD student in biochemistry/cancer biology,


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Could mirror neurons be involved in our ability to mimic facial expressions?

VS Ramachandran is brilliant and besides this talk which I've watched a few times I also read one of his books.

It got me thinking of how fundamental mirror neurons are. When we look at people's faces we can recognize certain ques in their expressions which then make us feel a certain way. A very obvious example is when someone smiles at you and you smile back. Notice how easy it is to just smile back, we don't have to even look in the mirror and fix our faces, and make sure we are smiling. It is automatic. This goes for many other more complicated facial expressions which we can simply observe and mimic without being aware of what our own faces are doing. Furthermore facial expressions are certainly more subtle and complicated than other body expressions which we can't seem to mimic automatically, for instance a proper martial art stance appears to involve some body coordination conscious positioning and even a mirror to practice in front of. I believe this kind of transfer of facial expression from one person to another could be facilitated by mirror neurons. How else could we do it? We don't have a mirror in front of us.

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    Oct 11 2012: Do you think that yawning could spread among a group of people by the activation of mirror neurons? There might be some much simpler explanation but it’s very tempting to speculate about mirror neurons. It even works across species: my parrot usually yawns right after I do!
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    Sep 18 2012: It goes far deeper than you are suggesting here - I am reading a theory paper currently, called "Social Incentives and Human Evolution" by Nigel J. Barradale

    An abstract: I investigate the implications for human evolution of the social incentives commonly applied in human societies, especially the incentives generated through the social status mechanism. These incentives reward diverse traits including intelligence, knowledge, norm-following, language ability, singing ability, heroism, and altruism towards one’s group. Furthermore, the incentives have inclusive fitness implications, resulting in an evolutionary force that has favored many traits which are uniquely exaggerated. I term this evolutionary force “prosocial selection.” I highlight the social and psychological bases of prosocial selection, and compare the altruism that results from prosocial selection, termed “social altruism,” to established theories of altruism.

    Mirror neurons do not simply mimic what other people are actively doing (they also copy emotional status of another or others), but rather they are trained evolutionarily to anticipate the need for adapting involved in interactions with others!

    Our mimetic natures go beyond immediate mimicry of others, it is a constant in how our evolution as a species and as individuals to behave systematically.

    It is essential to 'go with the flow' I would say to be able to fit into various groups. There is truth to the idea that a negative person can bring down a whole party! WE don't simply use all of our consciousness, we have a subconscious and an unconscious that also dictates how we should be thinking and what to think. With this in mind, we can better understand how environment can directly alter our perceptions.

    Thank you Budimir, I also love Ramachandran - his video is one of my favorites and he gets some of the least amount of time offered on TED.
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      Sep 19 2012: Of corse Nicholas this is a very simple example I stated, I'm sure mirror neurons have many more, vastly more complicated functions. I just think this hypothesis or assumption is testable because it is very simple.

      This is a very interesting article, can you tell me where I can find it? It makes an argument I've made on few occasions while arguing labor and politics with people, however I don't have any empirical support. If this paper presents empirical support I would love to read it.
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        Sep 20 2012: Send me a message with your e-mail and I will try to send it to you. If not I will send you to the website I downloaded it from.

        - Talk soon
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    Sep 18 2012: Another thing to add is that recognizing faces usually allows us to infer the mood of the other person, it seems consistent that mirror neurons which process our feelings for empathy have merged with our brain regions which process the recognition of facial muscle movements in evolution.