Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mirror neuron-like simulation in the sensory system?

I've been busy lately working on a grant proposal so I have not had a chance to continue my comments on the recently published Mirror Neuron Forum.  There hasn't been any involvement in that discussion by the forum participants anyway (unfortunately) so my motivation to work on it has dropped off a bit.  I'll get back to that soon.

Right now I'm just curious if anyone has noticed that the mirror system has extended its reach into sensory systems.  A recent review by Keysers, Kaas, and Gazzola (2010), for example, discusses the role of somatosensory cortex in social perception via simulating the experience of others.  I haven't looked at this literature carefully, but on first glance it strikes me as rather odd to claim, as a novel idea inspired by mirror neurons, that sensory systems in the brain might be involved in sensing what is happening in the environment.  What will the next claim be, that the visual system is important for object identification via simulation of object features?  Radical!  I must be missing something.

Keysers C, Kaas JH, & Gazzola V (2010). Somatosensation in social perception. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 11 (6), 417-28 PMID: 20445542

2 comments:

vkodytek said...

The discovery of mirror neurons is undoubtedly an achievement. But if it’s true that neurons are typically engaged in more than one circuit, does it mean anything special if some of them fire both in observation and action? If not then there also may be neurons firing both when a brush is touching one’s leg and when one is watching the same in another person. So it looks like an interesting paper suggesting (among other) that mirror neurons may be found in the somatosensory cortex, too. What is a bit puzzling to me is the alleged far reaching consequences of the suggestion. For example the very end of the paper reads:

“As a sideproduct of this research, we will also gain a greater understanding of why people are willing to pay billions of dollars to watch movies, from westerns to more frivolous genres. It seems that movies can get under our skin as if we were the protagonists themselves.” (p. 426)

Now watching, say, Schindler's list (not a frivolous genre at all!) gave me the creeps, so I suppose something had to be happening in my motor as well as somatosensory systems. But did I understand the movie through the motor or somatosensory mirror neurons or even the goose pimples?

vkodytek said...

For completeness: The idea is at least as old as 2004; see C. Keysers, B. Wicker, V. Gazzola,1 J.-L. Anton, L. Fogassi, and V. Gallese (2004): A Touching Sight: SII/PV Activation during the Observation and Experience of Touch. Neuron 42, 335–346.