Mirror Mirror in my brain

There has been some mirror-neuron skepticism flurries between some of my Tweet followees (and buddies), such as Andrew Wilson, Uta Frith, Ed Young, Neuroskeptic and sarcastic-f (neurocritic).  And others.  Andrew is the buddy there.  And this piece critical of mirror-neurons was linked in.  I have to read it more carefully, because it is interesting (and this is structural procrastinating again).  I’m agnostic as to mirror-neurons, although it seems very popular among my students.  It is something they have heard about.  I’m agnostic because, well, I do not do this research, but enough people I know that are more well versed in brain are skeptical.  Do they exist in humans?  If so, what do they do?  Having something fire both when you do the action, and when you observe the action is, of course, interesting.  But, I don’t look at the brain.

There is a large litterature on emotion contagion, though, reaching back pretty far, and looked at through several paradigms.  My old adviser (and to some extent me) have been looking at this – how facial mimicry helps in interpretation of emotion. That does not mean that it is the mirror-neurons (if they exist) that do this.  And, quite possibly, it is related to some kind of empathy (although as a student of mine said, the area of empathy is huge, with the standard conflicting definitions, and multiple areas of investigation).

But, what struck me with this paper (which I gather is not written by a psychology/neuro scientist) is the authors rather categorical discussion of the universality/basic emotions discussion, and the claim that the counter discussion is not paid much attention to.

Now, I’m one of the lesser practitioners when it comes to emotion science, but I took an interest in this in the very early 90’s, when the area was small, and I followed the Ekman/Russell debate in real time, as well as read the Fridlund and Feldman Barrett critiques and papers.  Their view seemed (to me) as very much part of the discussion.  Always very interesting.  To me, they seemed more like balancing rather than offering alternative hypotheses.  When the dimensional vs categorical tests were placed against one another, neither one won.  Both conceptualisazions seem to be of some kind of importance.  Who knows, though, if they may both be usurped by another way of looking at them.

Also- the authors statement of the basic emotion view is much too strong.  Really.  And, that has been discussed.  People who do use the categorical/basic as kind of a framing (as I do) do not think of these in such strong terms.  We have seen how fuzzy the data is.  But, still, there seems to be a tendency towards categorization, towards rough recognition across cultures. 

What is interesting now is to look at how things are differing – and how things are processed in dynamics instead.  Because expressions are dynamic (and that critique was brought up in the 50’s against the static picture program, and Ekman and Friesen brings that up, in the 70’s – with the understandable (then) objection that, well, we don’t know enough about the static to look at the dynamic). 

I think the critique against mirror-neurons, and possibly simulation stands.  Perhaps because of my degree of ignorance.  But, part of the critique against the universal/basic is too strong. 

As neuroskeptic said:  Emotional expressions are still culturally universal. 




About asehelene

... because if I'm in a room with a second person, I want to be reasonably sure I'm the crazier one.
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