Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Mirror Neurons and Empathy
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Dr. Caron Goode’s continuous education, experience in psychology, and professional writing makes her a great resource for parents wishing to create and maintain a nurturing relationship their children. She is the founder of Academy for Coaching Parenting International and Live-Spirit.com. During Empaths Shifting into 2012, Caron spoke about working with intuitive children who have the gift of empathy and don’t fit the stereotype that most educational systems cater to. The following is an excerpt from her presentation.
Meryl Streep said, “The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy, we can all sense a mysterious connection to each other.”
Empathy is connecting to another’s feelings and emotional intention. Babies demonstrate empathy in a global sense. Babies respond to other crying babies by also crying.
By the time a child is two and a half years old, he or she has developed a self-identity and understands the feelings of distress belonging to his playmate or parent or sibling. You will see preschool children empathize by reaching out to alleviate another’s distress through words or touch. If a child does not establish a sense of self as different from another, then they’ll mix up the feelings of themselves and others.
By age eight, a child understands the human plight of birth, death, and vulnerability. Children depend upon the demonstrations of responsiveness, warmth, and empathy from the people in their world to continue cultivating connection and empathy within themselves. Otherwise, their ability to remain empathic is up for grabs.
At a basic level, empathy is being attuned to another’s emotions and intentions. The next level of empathy involves taking action to help another, whether alleviating fears and pain or supporting or celebrating someone. Here we can get into the need, desire, or passion to fix others, change others, save others and such. More complex forms of empathy occur when people join together for survival of struggles or to pursue the vision fueled by emotional connectedness. These show us how capable we are of making deep connections. The explanation for these connections comes with the discovery of “mirror neurons.”
At the University of Parma, Italy, researchers found that when macaque monkeys observe another monkey or human perform an action like cracking a nut, the neurons that fire when the monkey itself performs the action also fires in response to watching another individual. Mirror neurons create a neuro-physiological link between one’s own experience and that of another individual. Several studies confirm that when humans observe another person’s intentional action and/or emotional expressions, they activate brain areas that are also engaged when the person would perform the action or experience the emotion himself.
Mirror Neurons are anchored in the brain and it’s one of the ways in which the process of sensation, feeling, and emotions are patterned in the body. It is the way in which we learn from each other and feel in a similar way. It doesn’t mean that we need to take them on. We are still responsible for our own integrity of emotion. There’s not a division between what happens in our brain and what happens in our body. It’s the same. I’m using these terms synonymously. Mirror neurons anchor a feeling but it may be more precise to say that if it becomes something emotional then we have an emotion memory there—an event that’s associated with that feeling. In such cases, it becomes emotion.
If you have a question for Dr. Goode, please leave it as a comment below. You may contact Dr. Goode at http://live-spirit.com/contact-us/.
Join us tomorrow on this blog for another segment of Dr. Caron Goode’s discussion on how to support empathic children. To get the full transcript and listen to Caron’s entire presentation as well as the teaching of Suzy Miller, you may purchase the mp3s here:
Dr. Caron Goode is the author of ten books, including her latest: Kids who See Ghosts~ Guide Them Through Their Fear. Dr. Goode graduated with a doctoral degree from George Washington University in 1983 and is a licensed psychotherapist. Formerly a pediatric speech language pathologist, Suzy Miller is the visionary founder of Blue Star Brilliance LLC and author of AWESOMISM: A New Way to Understand the Diagnosis of Autism.