Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The primary function of mirror neurons

Mirror neurons were first discovered in monkeys but the relevant brain activity has also been found in the premotor cortex, the somatosensory cortex and the other areas in humans. As is well known, mirror neurons are active when one performs a specific movement, and when one observes someone else doing the same motion. Neurons in our brain “mirror” the action of the other, as if the observer himself were acting in the same way.

Giacomo Rizzolatti, one of the discoverers of the mirror neuron, says that the mirror neurons "are primarily involved in the understanding of the meaning of 'motor events', i.e. of the actions performed by others". That is, the monkey "sees the experimenter shaping his hand into a precision grip and moving it towards the food, it immediately perceives the meaning of these 'motor events' and interprets them in terms of an intentional act".
[Rizzolatti, G. and Sinigaglia, C. (2008) Mirrors in the Brain. Oxford University Press. p.97-98]

Thus, the primary function of mirror neurons is to perceive another person’s movement as an intentional action. In other words, the other person’s movement provokes the same potential movement, the same potential action, the same intention in us, through mirror neurons. In the fundamental level, we do not need to infer the other’s intention from the objective point of view, nor to project our own intention to another from the subjective point of view. (Here is the point to remember the theory of mind debate).

The other’s movement appears to us as a meaningful action, from the very beginning.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

two textbooks of phenomenological psychology

I found two contrasting passages in two textbooks of phenomenological psychology. They are interesting to know about the historical development of phenomenological psychology, which differentiated itself from phenomenology as philosophy.

1. Looking back his younger days, Amedeo Giorigi (he has been one of the leading figures in phenomenological psychology) says;

My sabbatical semester began in January 1969 and lasted until July of that year. My home base was the University of Aarhus in Denmark, but I was free to travel extensively and I sought out every phenomenological psychologist that I could find. I visited Copenhagen, Stockholm, Utrecht, Louvain, Heidelberg, and any other place that had someone who might be doing phenomenological psychological research. To make a long story short, I did not find anyone who had a research program using a phenomenological method in psychology. There were certainly some psychologists who had interests in phenomenological psychology, but they were not carrying out research with a phenomenological method. What passed for phenomenological psychology was mostly a theoretical critique of mainstream psychology or else some interesting phenomenological analyses that failed to articulate a method. It almost seemed as though I were pursuing a will-o'-the-wisp.
[Giorgi, A. (2009). The Descriptive Phenomenological Method in Psychology: A Modified Husserlian Approach. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. p.xii]

2. Looking to the future for phenomenological psychology, Darren Langdridge says;

The future is looking promising for phenomenological psychology. The rapid growth in qualitative methods, especially in social and applied psychology, clearly signals the need for approaches that prioritize understanding and focus on the meanings of experiences for participants......although phenomenology may no longer be such an active form of philosophy, the developments in continental philosophy --such as the turn to narrative-- have been taken up by phenomenological psychologists and used to further develop methods of enquiry appropriate to the needs of the social sciences and study of human nature.
[Langdridge, D. (2007). Phenomenological Psychology: Theory, Research and Method. London: Pearson. pp.167-8]

What a change in forty years!

As the academic situation has changed, phenomenology seemes to have lost its actuality in philosophy and thought but gained its popularity as one of the qualitative methods in psychology and other social sciences.

This is not a bad story for the psychologists who seek for the alternative methodology. But hmm... is this the future which Edmund Husserl himself dreamed of?