I have this old habit from graduate school that I tend to look for academic or scientific supports for new info, including the spirituality field I just began tapping into during the past few months. Learning about scientific & spiritual explanations at the same time makes me feel more assured. Strange habit of mine!
Glad to read a serious paper on empaths! It proves that our empathetic connection to other humans or even our pets is not just our imagination or illusion — there’s been biological research to support this!
Quoted from the dissertation by Elise Lebeau, Ph.D.–
“THE BIOLOGICAL BASIS
Things can looks like magic until we figure out how they work and understand the processes involved. Unfortunately for empaths, this discovery is still underway. However, research on mirror neurons is finally shedding some light on a potential explanation for the way empaths experience the emotions of others.
Mirror neurons are thought to be a neurophysiological mechanism involved in how we understand the actions of others and learn to imitate them (Rizzolatti and Craighero 169-192). These neurons were first studied in the context of motor skills and were observed to fire up when a monkey was watching someone else perform an action. This lead to the hypothesis that watching others do something triggers an internal response that can help us mimic and imitate what we see. The very act of watching another experiencing something activates neurons in our own brain (Bastiaansen, Thioux and Keysers 2391-2404), even when we are not personally performing the action.
In his ground breaking book “Mirroring People”, Marco Iacoboni relates the evolution of this fascinating new field of research. He introduces mirror neurons as the potential physiological basis for empathy and morality, since they seem to be involved in how we can perceive and interpret the experiences of other people (Iacoboni 4). In its simplest form, a mirror neuron is triggered by the observation of a physical gesture in someone else which in turns fires the same physiological neurons in the observer. What is striking about this process is that it happens consistently even though the observer does not move his muscles at all. It’s only an internal representation of the action, not a physical imitation of it.
Taking the example of a baseball match, the neurons activated by the catcher as he grabs the ball also get fired in the audience as they watch him do it. The same process is also at work when we watch someone experiencing physical pain or notice facial expression of anger or worry. Our brain can interpret the meaning of all these situations by internally experiencing them through its own mirror neurons. Not only that, but there is a plethora of ways to trigger the mirror neurons: watching a ball being kicked, hearing the sound of a ball being kicked or even just saying the word “kick”, can all fire up the mirror neurons involved in this activity.
There is also a very high level of sophistication in the mirror neuron firing pattern. In fact, the pattern is specific to the context or meaning of the action being observed, such as raising your hand to grab a ball or raising your hand to ask a question. These two actions involve the same muscle, but not the same intention, and they triggers different mirror neuron pathways. In short, mirror neurons allow us to create a very specific, contextual internal representation of what others are experiencing by firing our own brain cells to bring meaning and understanding to the actions of others.
This leads Iacoboni to postulate that the firing pattern of mirror neurons is actually complex enough that it allows us to understand the intention of other people (i.e. “what they are thinking”) depending on the context of their action (Iacoboni 30). The presence of this biological process is critical when you consider that being able to understand and relate to other people is critical in our ability to survive in human society. This concept is also supported by an entirely different body of research on a process called emotional contagion.”
Dr. Judith Orloff’s research is also AMAZING!
I have definitely learned a lot from Dr. Bruce Lipton & Life Coach Lisa A. Romano!
May God bless all those experts who are so generous to share their knowledge for free online!