People with autism experience less activity in the brain neurons that specifically trigger human empathy, according to a new study by University of Montreal researcher Hugo Théoret. The professor in the Department of Psychology is trying to understand the link between ‘mirror neurons’ and autism.
Mirror neurons, a theory developed in the ‘90s, are at the basis of all imitative learning such as language acquisition. So, a person who watches another performing a certain activity actually experiences the same activity in their brain circuitry. The theory also explains why laughing can become so contagious.
Théoret says since mirror neurons trigger human empathy and one of autism’s main characteristic’s is not being able to put oneself in another person’s shoes, the researcher decided to apply the mirror neuron theory to autism.
He had two groups stay still and observe a video recording of a hand with one finger moving. He then had both repeat the gesture. He also took a reading of the brain activity in their brain cortex. Among the autistic subjects, mirror neurons showed weaker activity and showed for the first time no difference in neuron activity in both movement and observation of the autistic.
The results of his study will be published in the upcoming issue of Current Biology.
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