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What We Cannot Do Ourselves, We Cannot Understand In Others

Date:
October 6, 2005
Source:
Max Planck Society
Summary:
Max Planck researchers demonstrate that it is first and foremost our own experiences that make it possible for us to experience sympathy and empathy for others.

Frames from the video footage: the experimental subjects are lifting boxes of various weights. Their faces are hidden, so that the patients and the control subjects can make their guess about the subject’s motions, uninfluenced by the facial expressions of the emotions portrayed by the actors.
Credit: Image : Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Neurosciences

Successful social communication is based, above all, on the ability to understand the actions of other people. But how can we imagine what other people are thinking, or what intentions they have? Psychologists and neuroscientists trace it back to a kind of simulation that goes on in our brain as soon as we observe a person acting. The actions of the observed person are, so-to-speak, internally imitated. Indeed, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Neurosciences in Munich, in cooperation with scientists from the University of Bournemouth in England and Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, have shown that we understand the actions of another person, apparently, on the basis of our own "action inventory". In other words, our own mind and body give us the foundation to understand what other people are doing, thinking, or feeling. Evidence for this comes out of an experiment involving two patients that, because of an extremely rare illness, lost the ability to perceive their own body. (Nature Neuroscience, October 2005).


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The above story is based on materials provided by Max Planck Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


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Max Planck Society. "What We Cannot Do Ourselves, We Cannot Understand In Others." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 October 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/10/051006084429.htm>.
Max Planck Society. (2005, October 6). What We Cannot Do Ourselves, We Cannot Understand In Others. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/10/051006084429.htm
Max Planck Society. "What We Cannot Do Ourselves, We Cannot Understand In Others." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/10/051006084429.htm (accessed April 23, 2014).

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