MCAT Content / Observational Learning / Biological Processes That Affect Observational Learning

Biological Processes that Affect Observational Learning

Topic: Observational Learning

Mirror neurons are found in various parts of the human brain, are thought to be involved in biological processes that affect observational learning.

Mirror neurons have been identified in various parts of the human brain, including the premotor cortex, supplementary motor area, primary somatosensory cortex, and the inferior parietal cortex. In monkeys, mirror neurons fire when the monkey performs a task, as well as when the monkey observes another monkey performing the task. Humans also possess mirror neurons, and while there is still some debate about the exact function of these neurons, there are several hypotheses. Some believe that mirror neurons are activated by connecting the sight and action of a movement (that is, they are programmed to mirror). Some postulate that mirror neurons help us understand the actions of others and help us learn through imitation.

It also has been proposed that mirror neurons in humans are responsible for vicarious emotions, such as empathy, and that a problem in the mirror neuron system might underlie disorders such as autism. However, this has yet to be proven, and there is clearly still much research needed to determine the exact function or functions of mirror neurons. Despite that, many believe that they are somehow involved in observational learning in animals, including humans.


Key Points

• Mirror neurons have been identified in various parts of the human brain, including the premotor cortex, supplementary motor area, primary somatosensory cortex, and the inferior parietal cortex. Many believe that they are somehow involved in observational learning in both animals and humans.

• There is some debate about the exact function of these neurons, which has led to several hypotheses.

• Some believe that mirror neurons are activated by connecting the sight and action of a movement.

• Some postulate that mirror neurons help us understand the actions of others and help us learn through imitation.

• It also has been proposed that mirror neurons in humans are responsible for vicarious emotions.


Key Terms

mirror neurons: neurons that fire when a particular behavior or emotion is observed in another. May be responsible for vicarious emotions and a foundation for empathy

vicarious emotions: experience the emotion of someone else

empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another



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