'Mirror system' behind brain's social understanding tasks

London, Feb 24 (IANS): How do we make sense of actions we see other people performing in day-to-day life? That’s through specialised cells in the brain, finds research.

Researchers from Aarhus University and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark demonstrated that brain cells in what is called the “mirror system” help people make sense of other people’s actions.

Using magnetic stimulation to temporarily disrupt normal processing of the areas of the human brain involved in the production of actions of human participants, it is demonstrated that these areas are also involved in the understanding of actions.

The study is the first to demonstrate a clear causal effect, whereas earlier studies primarily have looked at correlations, which are difficult to interpret.

"There has been a great deal of hype about the mirror system, and now we have performed an experiment that finally provides clear and straightforward evidence that the mirror system serves to help people make sense of others' actions," researcher John Michael explained.

There are areas of the brain that are involved in the production of actions.

These areas contribute to understanding others' actions. This means that the same areas are involved in producing actions and understanding others' actions.

This helps us in everyday life, but it also holds great potential when trying to understand why people with autism and schizophrenia have difficulties with social interaction.

Attaining knowledge of the processes underlying social understanding in people in general is an important part of the process of attaining knowledge of the underlying causes of the difficulties that some people diagnosed with autism and schizophrenia experience in sustaining social understanding, the study noted.

"The findings may be interesting to therapists and psychiatrists who work with patients with schizophrenia or autism, or even to educational researchers," said Michael.

The study was published in Psychological Science.


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