Mirror Neurons, a particular class of visuomotor neurons that allows understanding through observation and in the long run imitation, could be one of the most revolutionary discoveries of the last decade; and such a claim is evident on the attempt to use the mirror neuron mechanism on various fields of knowledge: neurology, psychology, medicine, linguistics, evolution and various philosophies.
Rizzolatti and Craighero (2004) made a visual mapping of the brain to locate mirror neurons which respond to emotions. In doing this study, they have taken into consideration two types of factors that may have triggered the release of emotional responses. One is the “first person recognition” wherein an observer is able to evoke the same type of emotions based on previous experience that he may have during the past. And the other is what they call as the “cold action” which is relatively objective compared to the former because there are no feelings involved whatsoever.
The study focused on the mechanisms underlying the “direct sensory-motor mapping” which focused on a basic type of human emotion- disgust. Such emotion according to Rozin et al. (2000) is the most ideal emotion that should be used for testing because it is one of the fundamental tools for survival during prehistoric times. Disgust has a strong “communicative value” (Rozin et al. 2000) in terms of food for instance, and its use for determining whether the latter is safe to eat or not.
Results of the studies showed that whenever a person is exposed to disgusting things, the amygdala which is related to “olfactory modality” and the insula which is related not only to “primary cortical area for chemical exteroception (e.g., taste and olfaction) but also for the interoceptive state of the body (“body state representation”)” (Rizzolatti and Craighero, 2004) is trigerred. And eventually, it appears that the insula has mirror neurons that are triggered whenever someone is disgusted or see someone who is disgusted (Calder et. al, 2000; Adolphs et. al, 2003).
The result of such study explained why people empathize with others and are altruistic most of the time. The very sight of someone who is in pain or suffering triggers the same response on a person who is observing. Hence it is almost a “natural” response to help people in need because it is in itself a way to satisfy the self- in Rizzolatti’s own terms: “Thus, acting to render others happy – an altruistic behavior – is transformed into an egoistic behavior – we are happy”.