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What is it?

What is it?

Mirror neuron

Daniel BuenoMirror neurons, which are among the most important discoveries in neuroscience of the last decade, are connected with vision and movement. They enable learning by imitation, as they are activated when it is necessary to observe or to reproduce the behavior of other beings of the same species. Therefore, it is believed that they are at the base of primates’ social skills. “A mirror neuron can be used to analyze scenes or the intents of other individuals,” says neuroscientist Stevens Rehen, from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).

Mirror neurons were first described in monkeys by researchers from the University of Parma, Italy, in 2004. “Neuroimaging techniques suggest that there are cells with the same characteristics in the brain of humans,” says Rehen. It is thought, however, that they are not the privilege of primates and may also be found among other animals, such as birds.

It has already been determined where they are to be found: in the pre-motor cortex and inferior parietal lobe of primates. But there are still doubts about the reach of their functions. Recent studies indicate that mirror neurons are linked to the observation and imitation of facial expressions and hand movements and that, at a later stage, to movements themselves. The study of the properties of these cells has helped scientists to understand the origin of certain neurological conditions. Autism, for example, might be caused by mirror neuron dysfunctions.

Stevens Rehen, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)