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Mirror Neurons for Education Patricia Schober, MMag. Dr. Barbara Sabitzer Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt (Austria) School of Education

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Presentation on theme: "Mirror Neurons for Education Patricia Schober, MMag. Dr. Barbara Sabitzer Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt (Austria) School of Education"— Presentation transcript:

1 Mirror Neurons for Education Patricia Schober, MMag. Dr. Barbara Sabitzer Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt (Austria) School of Education 1

2 Mirror Neurons for Education 1. What are Mirror Neurons? 1.1 Discovery and Activation in Monkeys 1.2 Mirror Neurons in Humans 2. Mirror Neurons and Social Interaction 2.1 Action Understanding 2.2 Action Imitation 2.3 Mirroring Body Language, Facial Expressions and Feelings 3. Mirror Neurons for Education 3.1 Imitation Learning 3.2 Interpersonal Relationships 3.3 Controversial Issues Table of Contents 2 Patricia Schober, MMag. Dr. Barbara Sabitzer

3 Mirror Neurons = neurons firing both when an action is executed and when it is observed [1] 3 Patricia Schober, MMag. Dr. Barbara Sabitzer Mirror Neurons for Education: What are Mirror Neurons?

4 In the 1990s, Rizzolatti et al. discovered mirror neurons in a monkey’s premotor cortex. These neurons reacted when the monkey… …reached for a nut, …saw humans or scientists reach for it [1], …heard the sound of paper being torn (association: food being unwrapped) [2] …and could only infer the reaching action’s aim because it was hidden [3]. Mirror neurons also reacted before an action was finished and anticipated its aim [4]. Mirror neurons did not react when......scientists only pretended to reach for an imaginary object and...no other person or animal was interacting with an observed object [5]. 1.1 Discovery and Activation in Monkeys 4 Patricia Schober, MMag. Dr. Barbara Sabitzer

5 Mirror Neurons for Education: What are Mirror Neurons? Through electrophysiological studies Mukamel et al. provided evidence of the existence of a mirror neuron system in humans in This system is still largely uninvestigated, but expected to be similar to the one found in apes. Mirror neurons presumably exist in numerous regions of the human brain [6]. Some scientists believe that mirror neurons constitute the basis for speech development in humans. This hypothesis is still very controversial [7]. 1.2 Mirror Neurons in Humans 5 Patricia Schober, MMag. Dr. Barbara Sabitzer

6 Mirror neurons allow us to understand actions others perform by transforming visual information into knowledge [8]. Mirror neurons are activated when others perform actions we have not (1) and have observed before (2). (1) Mirror neurons are activated and draw a motoric pattern of the observed action in our brains. Thereby, they enable us to imitate the movement at future instances. (2) Mirror neurons and the pattern they have previously created are activated. Thereby, our prior knowledge of this action helps us understand what we are observing and anticipate the action’s aim [9]. 2.1 Action Understanding 6 Patricia Schober, MMag. Dr. Barbara Sabitzer Mirror Neurons for Education: MNs and Social Interaction

7 Unlike most species, humans are able to learn by imitation. Understanding actions we observe is essential to imitation learning. Imitation learning enables us… …to incorporate new patterns to accomplish tasks we have never been confronted with before and …to substitute motoric patterns we are used to by enhanced patterns observed in someone else‘s movements [8]. Action imitation can lead to a shared scope of attention (“joint attention“). It emerges when numerous people imitate others’ behaviour and creates a sense of belonging [9]. 2.2 Action Imitation 7 Patricia Schober, MMag. Dr. Barbara Sabitzer Mirror Neurons for Education: MNs and Social Interaction

8 Mirror neurons make us mirror other people‘s body language and facial expressions. They are also able to transfer emotions and thereby change our constitution. Humans are not subjected to mirror neurons‘ influence and are able to inhibit reflexes triggered by their activation [9]. Evidence was provided by… …Ulf Dimberg et al. (proved that people unconsciously smile and frown in response to smiling and frowning faces) [10] and …Bruno Wicker et al. (proved that the observation of disgust activates the same neurons as feeling disgusted does) [11]. 2.3 Mirroring Body Language, Facial Expressions and Feelings 8 Patricia Schober, MMag. Dr. Barbara Sabitzer Mirror Neurons for Education: MNs and Social Interaction

9 Mirror neurons’ reaction is intensified when an observed action triggers our interest, we are motivated and plan or are told to imitate it. Thereby, our ability to acquire knowledge is enhanced [12]. Mirror neurons can positively influence students’ learning performances. Therefore, a communication of knowledge activating them (such as brain-based teaching methods) should be targeted by teachers. 3.1 Imitation Learning 9 Patricia Schober, MMag. Dr. Barbara Sabitzer Mirror Neurons for Education: Mirror Neurons for Education

10 Mirror neurons can influence interpersonal relationships in positive and negative ways by making us imitate others’ body language, facial expressions and emotions. Student-teacher relationships are often dominated and shaped by teachers [12]. Teachers’ awareness of mirror neurons can help them create a more positive atmosphere in class. Positive gestures (smiles, relaxed posture) should be mirrored, negative ones (frowns, crossed arms) avoided. Teachers can also try to make their students mirror their motivation, interest and self-consciousness. They should try not to mirror negative emotions coming from their students. 3.2 Interpersonal Relationships 10 Patricia Schober, MMag. Dr. Barbara Sabitzer Mirror Neurons for Education: Mirror Neurons for Education

11 Mirror neurons might influence students’ self-consciousness because they imitate and adopt good and bad habits they observe [13]. → teachers’ influence as role models on their students might be more powerful than it is treated as today Mirror neurons might be inhibited by negative emotions such as fear, tension and stress [9]. → the creation of a relaxed learning environment in school might be more important than expected Humans are used to being mirrored by others. In certain forms of mobbing this habit is purposefully disturbed and the harassed person is socially isolated. Body language and facial expressions are not mirrored anymore [9]. → being aware of the way mirror neurons work might help teachers recognize this particular form of mobbing and intervene at an early stage 3.3 Controversial Issues 11 Patricia Schober, MMag. Dr. Barbara Sabitzer Mirror Neurons for Education: Mirror Neurons for Education

12 Mirror Neurons for Education [1] Kohler, E. et al Hearing Sounds, Understanding Actions: Action Representation in Mirror Neurons. Available at: (accessed 16 January 2013). [2] Iacoboni, M. et al Grasping the Intentions of Others with One's Own Mirror Neuron System. Available at: (accessed 13 January 2013). [3] Umiltà, M. A. et al I Know What You Are Doing: A Neurophysiological Study. Available at: (accessed 16 January 16, 2013). [4] Fogassi, L. et al Parietal Lobe: From Action Organization to Intention Understanding. Available at: (accessed 16 January 2013). [5] Rizzolatti G., L. Fogassi & V. Gallese Neurophysiological mechanisms underlying the understanding and imitation of action. Available at: (accessed 15 January 2013). [6] Mukamel, R. et al “Single-Neuron Responses in Humans during Execution and Observation of Actions.” Current Biology 20/8, pp [7] Rizzolatti, G. & Arbib M. A Language within our grasp. Available at: (accessed 16 January 2013). [8] Rizzolatti, G. & L. Craighero “The Mirror-Neuron System.” Annual Review of Neuroscience 27, pp [9] Bauer, J Warum ich fühle, was du fühlst. Intuitive Kommunikation und das Geheimnis der Spiegelneurone. München: Wilhelm Heyne Verlag. [10] Dimberg, U., M. Thunberg & K. Elmehed “Unconscious facial reactions to emotional facial expressions.” Psychological Science 11, pp [11] Wicker, B. et al Both of Us Disgusted in My Insula: The Common Neural Basis of Seeing and Feeling Disgust. Available at: (accessed 14 January 2013). [12] Bauer, J “Erziehung als Spiegelung: Die pädagogische Beziehung aus dem Blickwinkel der Hirnforschung.“ In: U. Herrmann (ed.). Neurodidaktik. Grundlagen und Vorschläge für Gehirngerechtes Lehren und Lernen. Weinheim: Beltz, pp [13] Bauer, J “Kleine Zellen, große Gefühle – wie Spiegelneuronen funktionieren. Die neurobiologischen Grundlagen der «Theory of Mind»“. In: Ulrich Herrmann (ed.). Neurodidaktik. Grundlagen und Vorschläge für gehirngerechtes Lehren und Lernen. Weinheim: Beltz, pp References: 12 Patricia Schober, MMag. Dr. Barbara Sabitzer


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