Mirror Neurons with Michael Arbib (BSP 39)

Episode 39 of the Brain Science Podcast is an interview with Dr. Michael Arbib from the University of Southern California.  Dr. Arbib's work with functional brain imaging has established the presence of mirror neurons in the human brain.  In our interview, we focused on the role of mirror neurons in imitation and language.  In particular, I questioned Dr. Arbib about the Mirror System Hypothesis (MSH) of Language Evolution that he proposed in 1998 with Giacomo Rizzolatti.  We also explored how this hypothesis diverges from the universal grammar proposed by Noam Chomsky.  Dr. Arbib also shared his enthusiasm for future research and we talked about the special challenges caused by the interdisciplinary nature of modern neuroscience.

How to get this episode:

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  • New episodes of the Brain Science Podcast are always FREE.  All episodes posted after January 1, 2013, are free.  See the individual show notes for links the audio files.

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Scientists mentioned in the interview:

  • Giacomo Rizzolatti: His team discovered mirror neurons at the University of Parma, Italy. Other team members: Vittorio Gallese, Luciano Fadiga, and Leo Fogassi.
  • Ursula Bellugi (Salk Institute): pioneered the neurobiology of sign language.
  • Richard Byrne (University of St. Andrews): studies how gorillas learn in the wild.
  • Michael Tomasello (Max Planck Institute for Comparative Anthropology): studies social behavior of primates, including how communicative gestures vary between groups.
  • Noam Chomsky (MIT): famous linguist who has proposed an inborn universal grammar.
  • DL Cheney and RM Seyfarth:  research about primate vocal behavior, especially the use of calls in the wild.

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A Closer Look at Mirror Neurons (BSP 35)

Mirrors in the Brain

Brain Science Podcast #35 is a discussion of Mirrors in the Brain: How Our Minds Share Actions, Emotions, and Experience, by Giacomo Rizzolatti and Corrado Sinigaglia.  Mirror neurons were discovered in Rizzolatti's lab in Parma, Italy, in the early 1990s, and his book is a detailed to discussion of the experimental evidence in both monkeys and humans.  Direct single neuron recordings have been made in monkeys.  The evidence in humans is indirect, since it is based on mainly on neuro-imaging studies like PET scans and fMRI scans.  Even so, mirror neurons appear to be essential to our ability to understand both the actions and emotions of others. 

In this episode, we also explore the evidence that there are other neurons in the motor areas of the brain that have sensory properties and that the areas of the brain traditionally thought to be devoted to sensory functions also contain neurons with motor properties.  Another fascinating discovery is the fact that there are neurons that respond not only to somatosensory inputs (such as being touched) but also to visual or auditory inputs from objects within our peri-personal space.  For background on these body maps, I recommend listening to Episode 21 and Episode 23.  If you are new to the Brain Science Podcast, you may want to listen to those episodes first, because this week's episode is a little more technical than most.

I will be exploring the importance of these discoveries in future episodes.

How to get this episode:

  • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.
  • Buy mp3 for $1.
  • Buy Transcript for $1.
  • New episodes of the Brain Science Podcast are always FREE.  All episodes posted after January 1, 2013, are free.  See the individual show notes for links the audio files.

Links:

Donations and Subscriptions are appreciated

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