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Mirroring People

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Mirroring People

The Science of Empathy and How We Connect with Others


15 min read
10 take-aways
Text available

What's inside?

When you smile, I smile. When you move, neurons fire in my brain. We are not atomized individuals.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Eye Opening
  • Overview


In this fascinating book, Marco Iacoboni wordily explains his research into mirror neurons, generally in language that laypeople can understand. He convincingly issues a challenge to the individualistic foundations of Western thought. People imitate one another, Iacoboni argues, on a neurological level: Their brains respond to the actions of others, almost as though they were doing those actions themselves. What’s more, different levels of neural activity occur depending on context and purpose. The human world is social, and each person’s actions have immediate, neurological implications for everyone else. Because of the number of fields Iacoboni touches on, and the broad implications mirror neurons have for society, getAbstract recommends his book to readers who are interested in communication, advertising, cognitive science and philosophy.


Reading the World, Reading Each Other

As you move through life, you “read the world.” More than anything, this means you read the people you encounter. You interpret their faces, gestures and moods based on subtle behavioral cues. You can fathom “the deepest aspects of the minds of others” because of brain cells called mirror neurons, which are “highly and narrowly specialized.”

When mirror neurons discharge, they set off a kind of imitative impulse in your brain that reflects what you perceive others to be doing. This is so finely tuned that the mirror neurons fire differently depending on the intention of an action. For example, if you see someone reach for a cup in the presence of contextual cues indicating that he or she is about to drink from it, your mirror neurons will fire differently from the way they would if the cues indicated that he or she were picking it up to clear the table. Cues may be visual – you might see steam rising from the cup, for example – or auditory – you might hear a dishwasher running in the kitchen.

Mirroring and interpretation are crucial parts of learning. Humans imitate one another almost as soon as they are born: One study ...

About the Author

Marco Iacoboni directs the Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Laboratory at the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at the University of California Los Angeles.

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