Step by step we move closer. But how much more than words do movements tell us about each others’ thoughts and feelings?
Cognitive enhancement is certainly focused on the use of drugs and a rather biochemical approach - while everyday life experiences like the overt link between movement and mental states could really let us move on:
“I am not interested in how people move, but what moves them.” Pina Bausch
Have you ever moved like someone - in order to handle a problem or accomplish a goal? Or just in your last sports, dancing, yoga or aerobic session? Then you performed imitation learning. Have you ever been moved by someone - by your favorite musician, dancer or movie actor in a way that you kind of experienced what he or she experienced or furthermore felt what he or she felt? Then you practiced empathy – the essence of any social interaction. These two commonly known experiences we all share in our socialization rely on the same neural circuit.
Mirror, mirror in my brain...
The mirror neuron system is defined as a common network for perception and action, which helps to understand observed actions and to imitate them (Rizzolatti and Craighero, 2004; Perry and Bentin, 2009). Additionally, mirror neurons are involved in empathic processes and sympathy (Cheng et al, 2008; Perry et al., 2010; Perry, Stein and Bentin, 2011). In this small gap between mirroring actions and mirroring emotions, is there any scope for improvement?
“Empathy is a skill like any other human skill. If you get a chance to practice, you can get better at it.” Simon Baron Cohen
Does a general reinforcement of the mirror neuron system through regular stimulation in form of acting out sports that require a high amount of imitation also improve performance in empathy? Does mirroring someone’s movements and bodily expressions on a regular basis have enduring effects on empathic abilities and the underlying neural circuit? Regarding the plasticity of cognitive processes training procedures that do not primarily aim at empathic abilities could still affect them.
Move in the right direction…
“When a body moves. It’s the most revealing thing. Dance for me a minute, and I’ll tell you who you are” Mikhail Baryshnikov
Are these simple exaggerations of creative folks or important ideas of experts in expressing emotions? What if quite basal activities offer the convenient side effect of enhancing a rather cognitive process like empathy? The basic assumptions are regarded in today’s scientific literature. Whereas to venture the proposed conclusion demands just a few steps out of line with the potential to exploit a whole new field of research and improve the quality of social interactions.