The Empathic Brain Part II

March 13, 2013 |  by

More key points from Christian Keysers’ The Empathic Brain:

  • Mirror neurons are selective: “The ‘selectivity’ of a neuron reflects how much a neuron responds to each possible stimulus,” Keysers writes. In other words, we are more receptive to some stimuli than others—and different people are receptive to different stimuli. Obvious, of course. Still it shows how some people will be more attracted to one meme than another. One goes for neo-nazis, another for yoga. We can gauge our meme receptivity.
  • Mirror neurons—what Keysers calls shared circuits—are idea mediators: Our brains pass ideas, impulses and feelings from one person to another.
  • Imprinting: “Our mirror system is not fully determined at birth, but can be augmented by experiences that change the way we perceive [actions] in others,” Keysers writes. Our past actions influence how we respond. The more we eat those cookies, the more we’ll want to in the future.
  • Imagining actions and perceiving actions aren’t so different to the brain: “Before the discovery of mirror neurons, most people would have thought that imagining a situation and actually seeing the situation are quite different processes,” says Keysers. The meaning? Thoughts have power. Just by thinking, visualizing or imaging, we can create an empathic link to an action or idea.
  • Repressing overt mimicry on the other hand can be instrumental in signaling that one does not wish to tune into the emotions of particular people.” We have a choice. We aren’t forced to mirror the emotions of others. We can choose to do so, or not. In fact, our nervous system contains inhibitory synapses, designed to reduce our receptivity.
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