Monkey See, Monkey Do - Are You Relating to the Actions and Emotions of Others?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008 2 comments

We all have done it. You watch a heart wrenching movie and you sit there and cry, just as if you are the actual person that it is happening to. Or you see an accident happen, and you gasp, your heart races, you feel sick to your stomach, your face wiggles into all sorts of contortions, you feel weak in the knees, and run to help. How many of you have watched any of the 9/11 tapes, and not had your heart feel the despair.

As I have written before, we are constantly trying to make sense of the world around us. I have also written about body language, and how 55% of our communication is visual (though our body language and the eyes). To varying degrees, all of us care about what those round us, are thinking of us, and if we are being accepted, or not. It’s also how we begin to develop how we perceive ourselves, through the reflection of others, and their behavior toward us.

From the time we are born, we start mirroring those around us. That is how we learn, as infants and partially throughout our lives; copying what we see and hear from those we come in contact with. We learn how to behave, how to accomplish a new task, by watching and listening, touching, smelling, tasting. We are taking it all in, and interpreting it all, and attempting to copy what we see and hear.

In order to live peacefully and prosper in society, we have to have empathy, and it is essential in a very close relationship. For without it, as some criminals and some psychopaths are unable to do, we would be capable of all sorts of mayhem toward our fellow man. But it is our ability to put ourselves in someone elses shoe’s, which helps us to reason away from carrying out those atrocities.

Scientists are finding out more and more about this powerful word, and phenomenon; for it is our ability to have empathy that helps to communicate, socialize, and to understand the actions of other people. They have conducted numerous studies on this. It was Giacomo Rizzatti, MD, a Neuroscientist, along with his colleagues at The University of Parma, who originally discovered mirror neurons in monkeys. Mirror neurons are neurons in our brain that fire when we both perform an action and feel a mood, and watch the same action being performed, or observe a mood by others. The original studies showed that when a monkey picked up a piece of food that certain neurons responded, and that when they observed a piece of food being picked up, that some of the same neurons again responded. It has also been found that people with autism lack the ability to recognize emotions in others, as well as themselves, and they are hoping and excited that the new studies may help them discover new treatments.

When we are observing people that we dislike, the response of the neurons are significantly decreased. The neurons still fire, but not as dense and as long, as they otherwise would for someone that we like or love, or even don’t know.

Many more studies are forthcoming; however, they believe that this is partially how we interpret what goes on around us, and also, to perceive the actions or intentions of others. They believe that this is empathy in action. It’s one of our mind’s ways of cataloging information about our surroundings, and using that to determine what our own feelings and reactions are going to be.

This is why hypnosis works so well. Instead of going to its prior storehouse of patterns and behaviors, hypnosis has you visualize, imagine and experience,- a new way of behaving, which in turn, gives your mind a new option, instead of relying on the same old, no longer useful way.

Scientists have also found that some people have very active mirror neurons, and they can actually feel something happening to someone else, as if it is happening to them. In other words, if they observe someone else hit their hand with a hammer, they actually feel the pain in their own hand. They have termed this phenomenon as mirror-touch synesthesia, which is a condition that causes them to feel the touches that they see other people receive. To make it even more interesting, it happens just as if looking in a mirror, as the name implies. For example, if they observe someone that they are facing hit their left hand with the hammer, they will feel it in their right hand. However, if they are standing beside them, then they would feel it in the same hand. These people are also very attuned to the emotions of those around them. However, they are able to distinguish between a real touch and the mirror touch, according to a study performed by British neuroscientists.

Sarah Jane-Blakemore, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University College London, was giving a lecture in 2003, where she stated during the lecture that she had heard of such people. One of the women in the audience responded with shock that this did not happen to everyone. It was later found through research, that eleven other women in her family experienced color-grapheme synesthesia, which is where colors are associated with words, numbers, or letters.

And guys, it has been shown that 80% of expectant fathers feel “sympathy pains”, or symptoms for their pregnant wives, including hormonal changes, in some cases.

So there you have it. Make sure you watch the next heart wrenching movie, that you have someone warm and cuddly next to you. You can’t help but feel the emotions.

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