Monkey See, Monkey Do

By Mina Ghobrial

Mirror neurons are found in the motor cortex, the region responsible for movement, in animals. They “fire”, or evoke an electric signal, when one animal watches another animal complete a motor task. Research at Duke University published in Scientific Reports, linked social factors, such as proximity to other animals, social hierarchy and competition for food to the level of functionality in these neurons. Researchers found that when two monkeys completed a social task together, their brains showed high synchronized firing of their mirror neurons. This is called inter-brain cortical synchronization (ICS). Senior author Miguel Nicolelis, M.D., Ph.D. noted that findings of increased synchronization in social scenarios bears implications for future studies. Up until now, most studies in neuroscience have focused on single individuals, whereas now there appears to be new avenues to explore in group settings. In order to conduct this research, the team created a “multi-channel wireless system to record the electrical activity of hundreds of neurons in the motor cortices of two monkeys simultaneously as they interacted in the same space.” Findings linked to ICS could lead to new ways of diagnosing and treating conditions that involve atypical neural mirroring patterns, such as autism. Other studies could also be done to assess how well groups of people work together. 

Duke University Medical Center. (2018, March 29). Monkeys' brains synchronize as they collaborate to perform a motor task: Levels of synchronicity in motor cortex are influenced by proximity, social status. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 8, 2018 from