NOVA scienceNOW : 1 – Mirror Neurons

NOVA scienceNOW : 1 – Mirror Neurons

ROBERT KRULWICH: Hello again. Gaze into a
mirror, and what do you see? Well, I see my face, of course. But in my face I see moods,
I see shifts of feeling. We humans are really good at reading faces
and bodies. ‘Cause if I can look at you and feel what you’re feeling, I can learn from
you, connect to you, I can love you. Empathy is one of our finer traits, and when it happens
it happens so easily, perhaps becauseóand this is brand new science, this is just out
of the labówe may have some special circuitry in our brains that helps us whenever we look
at each other. Ask yourself, “Why do people get so involved,
so deeply, deeply involved, with such anguish, such pain, such nail biting tension over football?” COMMENTATOR: The Cleveland Browns are gambling
on defense. ROBERT KRULWICH: Why are we such suckers for
sports? And it’s not just sports. We can lose it completely at the movies, at video games,
watching a dance. Is there something about humans, humans particularly, that allows us
to connect so deeply when we watch other peopleówatch them moving, watch them playing, watch their
faces? Well, as it happens, scientists have an explanation
for this strange ability to connect. It’s new. DANIEL GLASER: It had never been found on
a cellular level before. ROBERT KRULWICH: A set of brain cells, found
on either side of the head, among all the billions of long branching cells in our brain,
these so-called “mirror neurons,” have surprising power. DANIEL GLASER: What we’ve found is the mechanism
that underlies something which is absolutely fundamental to the way that we see other people
in the world. ROBERT KRULWICH: And it began entirely by
accident, at a laboratory in the lovely old city of Parma, Italy, where a group of brain
researchers was working with monkeys, and they were testing a neuronóthat’s a brain
cellóthat always fired…made this sound… (NEURON FIRING): Clack, clack, clack. ROBERT KRULWICH: …whenever the monkey would
grab for a peanut. So the lab had all these peanuts around, and whenever the monkey made
its move… (NEURON FIRING): Clack, clack, clack. ROBERT KRULWICH: …the neuron would fire. Scientists thought, “Now here’s a neuron that’s
essential to motion. It’s a motor neuron.” Then, one day, the monkey was just sitting
around, not moving at all, just sitting, when a human scientist came into the lab. And when
that scientist grasped the peanut? Yeah, the monkey’s cell fired. Now, the monkey hadn’t moved, it was the human
that had moved, suggesting that this neuron up here couldn’t tell the difference between
seeing something and doing somethingóseeing and doing were the sameóor more intriguingly,
that for this neuron, watching somebody do something is just like doing it yourself. The head of the lab, Giacomo Rizzolatti, thought,
“Wow!” GIACOMO RIZZOLATTI (University of Parma):
The same neurons, one neuron, fired, both when the monkey observed something, and when
the monkey is doing something. It is almost unbelievable. DANIEL GLASER: It was surprising, because
this cell, which was involved with motor planning for the monkey, turned out to be interested
in the movements of other people as well. ROBERT KRULWICH: Some people call them “monkey
see, monkey do” neurons, but the name that stuck is “mirror neurons,” because with them,
the brain seems to mirror the movements it sees. This accidental discovery got scientists thinking,
doing more tests, and soon it came pretty clear that this is not just a monkey thing,
it’s a people thing, too. We all know that humans learn by looking and
copying; that’s what infants do. First you look… MOTHER: One, two, three, four. ROBERT KRULWICH: …then you do. DONNA: Ready? Let’s see your feet this way. ROBERT KRULWICH: And once you’ve watched and
copied and learned a set of moves, you not only have them in your head, if you see somebody
else doing it you can share the experience. They know the moves, you know the moves, so
you can move with them. DANIEL GLASER: If you can use the years of
training that you, yourself, have doneólearning to crawl, then learning to walk, then learning
to eatóthis is an incredibly rich set of knowledge that you could apply to the problem
of actually seeing what’s going on. ROBERT KRULWICH: So that’s why, when I head
down the street carrying all these packages, not only do people watch, look how they’re
watching. They feel my predicament because they know
what it’s like to carry heavy packages. They know all about “carrying.” So as they watch
me moving they can feel themselves moving. Their neurons are “mirroring” the action. These neurons may be the brain’s way of translating
what we see so we can relate to the world. DANIEL GLASER: The mirror system is the way
that you tap into…the way that you harness your own abilities and project them out into
the world. ROBERT KRULWICH: And people are really good
at watching and translating what we see. Like, with just thirteen moving dotsóthat’s all
there are hereóyou’ll have no trouble recognizing these very ordinary activities. What’s more,
tests have shown that when a person sees a movie like this of his own movement, he’ll
recognize it immediately as his own. And that’s why sports fans tense with the
action, and wince, and leap. ‘Cause if you know the game… FOOTBALL FAN 1: Flag! Flag! FOOTBALL FAN 2: No, no, no flag. FOOTBALL FAN: No flag. ROBERT KRULWICH: …then your neurons are
firing as if it’s you playing, giving whole new meaning to the phrase “armchair quarterback.”
That’s why it’s so easy to be a sports fan. But there is more, suggests U.C.L.A. professor
Marco Iacoboni. He thinks mirror neurons tie us, not just to other people’s actions, but
to other people’s feelings. MARCO IACOBONI (University of California,
Los Angeles): So the idea was to try to figure out how the emotional system and this motor
system are connected together. We’re going to go in the scanner and what
you’re going to do is to… ROBERT KRULWICH: To demonstrate, he put me
into this very powerful f.M.R.I. brain scanner that can peer into the brain while it’s working. And he gave me some goggles so he could show
me pictures when I was in there. MARCO IACOBONI: So you can see here the eyeball
of Robert. ROBERT KRULWICH: And once he had a good view
into my brain… MARCO IACOBONI: Nice looking brain. ROBERT KRULWICH: Thank you. MARCO IACOBONI: Robert, you’re not supposed
to talk when we scan you, all right? ROBERT KRULWICH: Sorry. Then he said, “Okay, I’m going to show you
a bunch of faces. And for each face, I want you to imitate it.” So I did that. Then he recorded my brain while
I moved my facial muscles. MARCO IACOBONI: We’re going do, right away,
another one. ROBERT KRULWICH: Okay. Then he said “Okay, same faces, but this time,
don’t move a muscle, just look.” So I looked. When we checked the results… Oh, there’s my brain. I’ve never seen my brain
before. MARCO IACOBONI: This is your mirror area. ROBERT KRULWICH: Iacoboni says that the part
of my brain that’s working when I make a face, the same part gets busy when I see the face. Plus, when I was looking at these faces, I
remember feeling extra uncomfortable, kind of bad. But when these faces came on, I felt,
I don’t know, I felt better, almost happy. And, in fact, at that moment I was looking
at the happy face, my brainóand this is my brain at that instantósee that red area here,
it shows activity in the “happy” emotional part of my brain. And when I was imitating “happy” faces, look.
I get an even bigger response. This, says Iacoboni, is a consistent result.
Mirror neurons, he believes, can send messages to the limbic, or emotional system in our
brains. So it’s possible these neurons help us tune in to each others’ feelings. That’s
empathy. MARCO IACOBONI: We strongly believe that that’s
a unifying mechanism that allows people to actually connect at a very simple level. ROBERT KRULWICH: You are saying that there’s
a place in my brain, which…whose job it is to live in other people’s minds, live in
other people’s bodies? MARCO IACOBONI: That’s right. HELEN HAYES in A FAREWELL TO ARMS: Oh, darling,
I’m going to die! Don’t let me die! GARY COOPER in A FAREWELL TO ARMS: Kat! ROBERT KRULWICH: And great actors instinctively
know that if they put feeling and drama into their bodies,… HELEN HAYES in A FAREWELL TO ARMS: Hold me
tight! Don’t let me go! ROBERT KRULWICH: …their faces, we will respond. GARY COOPER in A FAREWELL TO ARMS: You can’t
die. You’re too brave to die! DANIEL GLASER: What actors are experts in
is using their movements to inspire feelings in the people watching. These are the experts
in the mirror system. V.S. RAMACHANDRAN (University of California,
San Diego): We are intensely social creatures. We literally read other people’s minds. I
don’t mean anything psychic like telepathy, but you can adopt another person’s point of
view. LINDSAY SCHENK (University of California,
San Diego): When you put it together, what do you think it’s going to be? ROBERT KRULWICH: So if mirror neurons help
us connect emotionally, what about people who have trouble with this? Kids like Christian,
who has autism? LINDSAY SCHENK: Why do you like LEGOÆs? V.S. RAMACHANDRAN: It’s been known for some
time that children with autism could be quite intelligent, but have a profound deficit in
social interaction. ROBERT KRULWICH: Christian can speak and read
and write, but like many kids with autism, he will avoid eye contact, he often misunderstands
questions. LINDSAY SCHENK: So, Christian, can you tell
me what you did in school today? CHRISTIAN: Doing well. LINDSAY SCHENK: You’re doing well? CHRISTIAN: Mmhmm. ROBERT KRULWICH: Everybody wants to know what
exactly causes this. So Dr. Ramachandran and his graduate student, Lindsay Schenk, designed
an experiment… LINDSAY SCHENK: So we’re going be reading
your brainwaves with this cap. ROBERT KRULWICH: They recorded brainwaves
while the kids opened and closed their hands and while they looked at a movie of somebody
else’s hands. For most people, the brainwave looks the same either way, whether they’re
doing or seeing. But for the kids with autism, the wave changes, suggesting, possibly, that
autism might have something to do with broken mirror neurons. V.S. RAMACHANDRAN: Their brains may indeed
be different in that regard, and they may have deficits in their mirror neuron system.
But we don’t know this for sure yet. There needs to be…additional work needs to be
done using brain imaging. ROBERT KRULWICH: But what we do know, says
Ramachandran, is that healthy human beings are intensely social. More than our cousins,
the monkeys, we invent ways to connect. We invent dances, and handshakes, and games to
play. We eat together. We meet and we talk. We talk a lot. V.S. RAMACHANDRAN: Everybody’s interested
in this question: “What makes humans unique?” What makes us different from the great apes,
for example? You can say humorówe’re the laughing bipedólanguage certainly, okay?
But another thing is culture. And a lot of culture comes from imitation, watching your
teachers do something. ROBERT KRULWICH: And here V.S. Ramachandran
makes a big leap. He has proposed that at a key moment in our evolution, this is his
guess, our mirror neurons got better. And that made all the difference, he says, because
once we humans got better at learning from each otherólooking, copying, teachingówe
could do things the other creatures couldn’t. V.S. RAMACHANDRAN: In other words, if you
are a bear, and suddenly the environment turns cold, you need a few million years to develop
polar bear type layers of fat and fur. ROBERT KRULWICH: It would take many, many,
many bear generations to select for furrier bears. But, says Ramachandran… V.S. RAMACHANDRAN: If you’re a human, you
watch your father slaying another bear and putting on a fur coat, you know, skinning
it, using that as a coat. You watch it, you learn it instantly. Your mirror neurons start
firing away in your brain, and you’ve performed the same sequence, complicated sequence. Instead
of going through millions of years of evolution, you’ve done it in one generation. ROBERT KRULWICH: And while no one is claiming
that mirror neurons are the key ingredient that makes us different from other creatures,
what these neurons do suggest about us seems almost self-evident. You can see it any Sunday
at a sports bar, that deep in our architecture, down in our cells, we are built to be together. DANIEL GLASER: There’d be very little point
in having a mirror system if you lived on your own. There’d be a lot of point in having
a digestive system if you lived on your own. There’d be a good point in having a movement
system if you lived on your own. There’d be a good point in having a visual system if
you lived on your own. But there’d be no point in having a mirror system. The mirror system
is probably the most basic social brain system. It’s a brain system which there’s no point
in having if you don’t want to interact or relate to other people. ROBERT KRULWICH: But we do like to interact.
And maybe now, as never before, we will understand why. Okay, now, before we leave this subject,
we’ve designed a little mirror neuron exercise. What we’re going to do is take a wishbone,
an ordinary wishbone, the kind you break for good luck, and we’re going to take itócome
onóand we’re going to take it for a stroll. And, if your mirror neurons are working properly,
when you see anything, even a wishbone walking, you know, along, you won’t just watch that
bone, you are going to be that bone. The walking bone was created and designed
by artist Arthur Ganson, and later in the program we will show you a host of Ganson
gadgets in glorious motion.


  • Bob Loosemore

    September 14, 2012

    I had a fair idea of what 'empathy' was before. Do I know any more about it now?

    Yes! 'we talk a lot" Empathy works to connect us – therefore empathy works in the evolutionary sense. Seeing and doing is associated with several areas of the brain – some areas are shared because they involve the SAME conceptual aspect of the activities. Where is the 'new science' here? Where?

  • deathbox47j

    May 14, 2013

    if this is the first episode why did he say "hello again " where the f*** is the black guy?

  • Opethfullcovers

    August 24, 2013

    Deeply involved with each other? Everyone hates everyone, period.

  • Kai Sovereign

    September 11, 2013

    Understanding others especially with autism.

  • Dina Strange

    December 1, 2013

    Did the monkey agree to the experiment. Was any part of monkey's body or brain damaged as a result of the experiment. Was the monkey released back into natural world and could she/he adjust to it. Those all the questions we need to be asking before we ask about neurons. Last but not least, why aren't we experimenting on humans if research is FOR humans.

  • Jihoon Kim

    March 5, 2014

    A study using fMRI found normal mirror neuron responses in autistic people, so we need to look elsewhere to explain autism. ( dinstein et al., 2010)

  • ricardo vega

    September 15, 2014

    Can we say that neurones mirror system its more less like transfer concep Freud? because you feel something without do nothiing with your body only you need see.

  • Jonny Wags Plays

    September 26, 2014

    Is that… XFL footage?? haha

  • Kaifty M

    January 20, 2015

    If it is that easy why there are many problems between humans?!! some seem never to have empathy. discrimination, war, bullying, neglect, harassments, serial killers, why there are many numbers of those concerns and probably increasing numbers?! some studies in social psychology found that people might see a woman being raped in front of their eyes without interfering because they believe that they are not responsible or other will do it!! where is empathy from this?? I am just wondering !!

  • CoolDallas Shields

    June 15, 2015

    See Robert Kruwlich, my bodies ready 😀

  • Nicki nurse

    October 18, 2015

    Foot ball is the more moderate example of this phenomenon…..Check out Hitler stirring up a crowd or a drill sergeant training his troops……or a rock star working a room.

  • Carol Record

    August 26, 2016

    Super interesting.

  • Sherri NC

    September 7, 2016

    This does not bode well for those who have a naturally sad or angry face – also why can't they figure out face blindness?

  • Arathae Maxus

    January 12, 2017

    This totally explains porn lol

  • Real Estate Projections LLC

    February 6, 2017

    Thanks for the upload, it was quite informative.

  • Jordan Evans

    February 19, 2017

    First known video of Cleveland Browns fans cheering.

  • Cari Garafalo

    September 8, 2017

    Oh, does anyone know the original air date for this? (How much did it predate this 2012 upload?) Just curious since this information was cutting edge at the time, so I'm just curious.

  • Cari Garafalo

    October 3, 2017

    Guess that explains why I make whatever face I'm drawing.

  • Whatsupchick3251

    October 20, 2017

    This was really interesting!!

  • Devon Beer

    February 7, 2018

    Yo how is Randall from This Is Us so fricken cool

  • Andrew Escalante

    March 5, 2018

    explain how people get turned off.

  • L V

    April 10, 2018


  • J

    April 12, 2018

    Then we need more experiences of watching empathy. Why the hell did NO ONE offer to help him with the boxes?

  • ThirdEye Shinobi

    July 9, 2018

    very informative video.

  • Wallace

    September 20, 2018

    "Flag! Flag! No Flag?"

  • The Magm

    November 9, 2018

    I bet those boxes are empty

  • Sir Reverse

    January 30, 2019

    0:03 geeze into a mirror

  • Kacie Rixen

    February 4, 2019

    no flag 5:57


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