Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Just a few days ago, I was with Juli in Casaa. We were looking for something to eat for merienda. It was already 5 in the afternoon and many of the stalls were already closing. Juli asked me if I wanted to get corn instead (from the manong on the narrow road right in between Casaa and Palma Hall). While we were waiting for the corn we ordered, I heard a man scream ‘Oooooh’ in a very bad tone. I looked around to see where the sound came from. It was from a student who just bought some pasta from Casaa. He was on his way out, and his food spilled all over the floor. I looked at him and he was really pissed. He seemed a little angry but his face seemed like he knew there was really no one to blame but himself. He looked around and finally cleaned up his mess.

 

Spilled Pasta (This is just a sample image, not the actual one I experienced)

 

At that time, I don’t know why but I really felt for him. I was telling Juli ‘Shocks kawawa naman siya.’ And I even remember Juli saying ‘Ang mahal na kaya ng pasta ngayon.’ After the incident, we walked back to the Palma Hall Annex (PHAn) to the event of our organization PUGAD Sayk.

Back in PHAn, PUGAD Sayk held an eating contest on spicy squid balls. I watched as some of the contestants’ face turn red. Some of my friends in PUGAD Sayk said ‘Sobrang anghang! Grabe.’ I honestly love spicy food, but just looking at the reaction of the contestants made me want to not eat spicy food for a while. I felt like their tongues were really burning because it was so hot. Some even offered for me to try but I declined.

 

Spicy Squid Balls. Yum?

 

Today I was just thinking about what to write for my blog, and these two events hit me. I realized…MIRROR NEURONS. I thought to myself ‘Ito na ba yun? Did my mirror neurons made me feel for the guy who spilled his food and for those contestants in the spicy eating contest?’

Mirror neurons were first discovered by an Italian scientist named Giacomo Rizzolatti in his experiment in 1992 by accident. They were studying the brains of some monkeys and were looking at how the brains of the monkeys organize motor behaviors. Interestingly, what they found out was that the areas of the brain that lit up while doing a specific action also lit up when they watched someone else does the same action. Specifically, the neurons that fired when the monkey reached out for a nut also fired when the monkey was watching someone else reach out for a nut. Mirror neurons were termed by Rizzolatti’s team, and were defined as neurons that fire when an action is being performed and when that same action is being observed. Over the years, they were able to find evidence that mirror neurons were also present in the human brain, a possible reason why I felt the way I did for the guy who spilled his food and for the contestants that day.

 

Giacomo Rizzolatti, the man behind the discovery of mirror neurons

 

I stumbled upon some studies on mirror neurons, and I was surprised that many scientists have been studying this topic. In relation to my own experience, mirror neurons really do have a role in playing with our emotions. One example is a study by Laurie Carr, Marco Iacoboni, Marie-Charlotte Dubeau, John C. Mazziotta, and Gian Luigi Lenzi wherein they found out that neurons fired when the subjects imitated and observed emotional facial expressions.

 

Different facial expressions

 

Rizzolatti and his team performed a study where they asked participants to inhale odorants which produced strong feelings of disgust. They then asked the subjects to look at images of people whose facial expressions suggest feelings of disgust. What were the results? You’ve guessed it. The same areas of the brain were activated by the actual experience and by just viewing the images.

 

Disgusting!

 

Another study by Singer, Seymour, O’Doherty, Kaube, Dolan, and Frith found evidence that neurons in the bilateral anterior insula, rostral anterior cingulated cortex, brainstem, and cerebellum were activated when the subjects received pain themselves and while they watch their loved one experience pain in the same room they were in. (This study seemed a bit unethical to me.)

 

Man in Pain

 

In these situations, it seemed that mirror neurons really play a role in empathy. And this is what I experienced when I watched the guy spilled his food and the contestants eating the spicy squid balls. It must have been the mirror neurons at work.

Before I end my blog entry, I want to add some interesting information that I found on mirror neurons and on buying. Mirror neurons may also be responsible for the things we see online, according to Lindstrom. He shares about a seventeen-year-old boy named Nick Bailey from Michigan, who after purchasing his Nintendo Wii back in 2006, set up his camera and microphone and videotaped his experience on opening his new toy. Just a couple of hours after uploading his video online, there were more than 70, 000 views. It seemed that by simply watching Nick open his Wii set, other Nintendo fans who were aspiring to grab their own Wii set just had the same amount of pleasure and excitement as him. There are actually some sites like http://unboxing.gearlive.com/ and http://unbox-it.com/ that people can check out. These websites feature videos of people across the world opening their various purchases, from cellular phones to speakers to other hot gadgets. Check out the sites for the latest gadgets available in the market today.

 

Wii set

 

Written by: Justine Ng

References:

http://www.pnas.org/content/100/9/5497.full.pdf

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/303/5661/1157.abstract

http://www.cell.com/neuron/abstract/S0896-6273(03)00679-2

Lindstorm, M. (2008). Buyology. New York: Broadway Books.

~ by myfivesenseworth on September 16, 2011.

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