When individuals look at somebody who is performing an action, some neurons of the
premotor area of their brain (defined mirror neurons) activate as if they themselves were
performing it. The mechanism of internal simulation enables to understand other people’s
aims and intentions and to imitate them (and thus to learn). Empathy is also based
on a similar mechanism of the internal simulation of emotions. Mirror neurons are probably
present at birth and provide an explanation of the early relational skills of the newborn
(imitation, emotional sharing) and of the natural parents’ ability to understand their
children. Depending on the individual, mirror neurons can be highly or little active and
to some extent they can be voluntarily inhibited or activated. Pathologies like depression
and autism seem to be connected with malfunctioning mirror neurons and seem to respond
positively to the therapeutic interventions aimed at increasing their activity.
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