Tuesday, July 26, 2011

the incredible power of mirror neurons and mentalizing!

When a woman born without limbs watches someone else sew, copycat regions in her brain activate even though she can’t hold a needle herself. Additional brain regions also lend support, demonstrating how flexible the brain is when it comes to observing and understanding the actions of others.

Scientists have known for over a decade about the mirror system, a network of brain regions usually activated by watching and performing an action. But just how the brain smoothly and quickly intuits what other people are doing, particularly when the action isn’t something the observer can do, has been unclear, says study coauthor Lisa Aziz-Zadeh of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

“What’s interesting is that even when she can’t do it, when it’s impossible for her, she still recruits her mirror system, but she additionally recruits these mentalizing regions,” Aziz-Zadeh says.

By suggesting that the mentalizing system kicks in for this woman when she cannot copy an action, the new study helps clarify how these two brain systems work together, says cognitive neuroscientist Marcel Brass of Ghent University in Belgium.