Tag Archives: neuroeducation

Mirror neurons: The most powerful learning tool

Mirror neurons. Imitation has always been a powerful learning tool. The human brain is enabled with different mechanisms that allow us to imitate actions. Babies are capable of reproducing facial expressions, and as adults, we imitate basic behavior. Laughter can be spread, we can cry while watching a sad movie… It seems like we have the capacity to feel what others feel, empathize with them and understand their feelings. What happens in the brain for this to happen? The answer is mirror neurons. In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about mirror neurons. What are they? How do they intervene in education and empathy? Why is emotion contagious? 

What are Mirror Neurons? Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

What are Mirror Neurons?

In humans and primate species there are neurons called Mirror Neurons. These brain cells activate when we see someone doing something. For example, when a chimpanzee sees its mother opening a nut with a rock and then tries to imitate her with another nut. Mirror neurons are related with empathic, social and imitations behavior. They are a fundamental tool for learning.

“We are social beings. Our survival depends on our understanding the actions, intentions, and emotions of others. Mirror neurons allow us to understand other people’s mind, not only through conceptual reasoning but through imitation. Feeling, not thinking.”- G.Rizzolatti.

In the 90’s a group of neuroscientists, directed by Giacomo Rizzolatti from the University of Parma (Italy), discovered something surprising. A hundred group of neurons in the brain in primates were activated not only when the monkey was doing something but also when the monkey saw another one doing that same action.

Mirror neurons can be defined as a group of neurons that activate when we perform an action or when we see an action being performed. 

Mirror neurons are essential for imitation which is key in the learning process. From birth these group of neurons are active and it allows us to learn to eat, dress, speak… Mirror neurons are also important in planning our actions as well as understanding intentions behind actions.

In the next video, Ramachandran a neuroscientist, explains what are mirror neurons and why they are important.

Mirror Neurons and Education

Mirror neurons allow us to learn through imitation. They enable us to reflect body language, facial expressions, and emotions. Mirror neurons play an essential part in our social life. They are key for the child development, as well as relationships and education.

Humans are social beings programmed to learn from others. We all reach our goals working as a group than individually. Seeing a parent, professor or student show a cognitive skill or any other skill, gives us a tangible experience rather than learning from explanation.

How do mirror neurons intervene in our daily lives?

  • Mirror neurons are responsible for yawning when we see someone else yawn.
  • These neurons also act when we see someone sad or crying and in turn feel sad.
  • The same thing happens with smiling or laughing. The way laughter can be contagious.
  • Studies suggest that there is an activation of the anterior insula when we see someone expressing disgust.
  • Another study shows that the somatosensory cortex is activated when we see someone touching another person the same way it activates when we are the ones being touched.

8 tips: How do mirror neurons influence education?

Thanks to mirror neurons the emotions we portray have a direct influence on others. This is why teachers have to make the effort to control their emotions, avoid teacher burnout, in order to use mirror neurons as an asset.

  1. Show happiness and optimism and that way you will transmit that to your students and children.
  2. Control and avoid negative emotions. We all have bad days but teachers have to be sure this doesn’t reflect on the children. However, the tricky part is that this doesn’t mean children should repress these emotions. As a teacher be sure to detect what emotion the child is feeling and help them learn to identify and manage them accordingly.
  3. Use visual signs and imitation any chance you get. Make examples practical with physical demonstrations so that children can imitate you.
  4. Encourage group interactions. This will maximize the use of mirror neurons and therefore the child’s social relationships and empathy.
  5. Use imitation in any activity that you want the children to learn (washing teeth, cleaning up after themselves…)
  6. Run from violence. Children learn what they see. If a child is educated in a hostile environment, his mirror neurons will activate and he might repeat these violent behaviors.
  7. Teach children the importance of how we listen, particularly body language. That way when someone has to share something or needs help the mirror neurons will activate and empathy will be reinforced.
  8. Teach children about emotional intelligence so that they can be able to identify their own and other people’s emotions.

Mirror Neurons and Emotional Contagion

Do you feel happy when people around you are happy? Do you get sad or depressed around negative and pessimistic people? This is due to the emotional contagion produced by the mirror neurons.

Emotional Contagion is a process through which a person or group influence the emotions and emotional behavior of another person or group. This can be done through emotional induction conscious or unconscious.

When people communicate they have the tendency to imitate gestures and facial expressions and in many cases feel what others are feeling. It has been proven the high impact emotional contagion has in our personal and work relationships. We are still not conscious of the influential ability we have in other people’s emotional state and in turn other people on our own emotional state.

Mirror neurons allow us to literally feel what others are feeling and “live” their emotions. Mirror neurons are based on empathy.

Empathy is the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.

This is proof that we are social beings. Empathy has been essential to our species survival and shows how without attachments and protection we wouldn’t have survived.

How can we take advantage of emotional contagion?

The fact that we can interconnect to each other and understand each other’s feelings can work to our advantage.

  • Happiness is more contagious than sadness, so try to surround yourself with happy people. However, don’t avoid people who are sad, we all need support sometimes and giving them love might help them recover faster.
  • Imitate happy and positive people, do what they do. Practice sports and smile more (even if you don’t feel like it, you will later feel better). Keep a healthy self-esteem and stop thinking negatively.
  • Think before acting or saying anything, especially if its negative. Try to say it politely, educated and as calmly as possible since your emotional state can be contagious.

Check out how laughter can be contagious with this video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fM45JMTpkBU

Mirror Neurons and Culture

Does culture influence our brain? The answer seems to be yes. According to an investigation from the University of California, mirror neurons respond differently if the person in front of us shares our same culture or not.

Researchers used two actors, one American and another Nicaraguan to show a group of American participants a series of gestures (some American, others Nicaraguan and others without cultural meaning).

With Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) they investigated mirror neuron activities. They found that participants showed more activity when they saw the American do the gestures in comparison to the Nicaraguan. When the Nicaraguan showed American gestures to the group, the mirror neurons decreased their activity drastically.

It’s possible to conclude that mirror neurons are influenced by culture and in turn have an influence on our behavior. The results from this study show us that we are more prepared to understand and empathize with members of our own culture and ethnicity than those who are not. This also explains why we connect faster and easier with members of our own culture.

Mirror Neurons, empathy, and psychopathy

Psychopathy is a personality disorder distinguished by a superficial charm, pathological lies, and low empathy.

It’s common for psychopaths to lead a criminal life, however, not all become, serial killers or murderers. Some can actually lead a normal life.

If these psychopaths are not capable of empathizing, does that mean their mirror neurons are not working? A recent study answered this question.

Researchers observed the brain activity of two groups (18 psychopaths and 26 healthy people) while they watched short videos. The videos showed images of hands touching, gently, painfully, socially, rejecting each other and neutrally. They were instructed to watch the video and then to try to feel what the people were feeling. The next part of the study the participants were hit with a ruler to register their pain area in the brain.

Scientists found that only when psychopaths were asked to feel something did they actually feel something, mirror neurons even activated the same way as in the other group. However, when no instruction was given, the psychopath’s group showed less activation of the mirror neurons and pain receptors of the brain.

It’s not that psychopaths don’t have empathy, it’s that it’s a switch that can be activated and deactivated, and by default, it is always deactivated.

Mirror Neurons and Autism

Symptoms of autism include a delay in language and strained emotional recognition. They are not capable of perceiving different emotions, including their own.

Scientists, therefore, studied the mirror neurons in people with autism to check if they were “broken”. They found that the system has a developmental delay, where the activity is slower, weaker and less activated than in others. Nonetheless, the activity increases with age and by age 30 it becomes normal and then unusually elevated.

Other studies have discovered that not all people with autism have a delay in these neurons. They can be activated normally by familiar faces.

Hope you found this article interesting. Please leave a comment below!

References

Molnar-Szakacs, I., Wu, A. D., Robles, F. J., & Iacoboni, M. (2007). Do you see what I mean? Corticospinal excitability during observation of culture-specific gestures. PLoS One, 2(7), e626.

Meffert, H., Gazzola, V., den Boer, J. A., Bartels, A. A., & Keysers, C. (2013). Reduced spontaneous but relatively normal deliberate vicarious representations in psychopathy. Brain, 136(8), 2550-2562.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Andrea García Cerdán, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Self-appraisal: apply this method to improve your performance.

What is self-appraisal? What is it for? What are its advantages and disadvantages? In this article, we will answer these questions and more. Also, we will give advice so that you can apply, self-evaluations to any aspect of your life. This method is not only great for students, it’s also necessary to establish what abilities are needed from us in different areas of life.

Self-appraisal

Self-appraisal: Meaning and importance

What is self-appraisal? A self-appraisal or self-evaluation is a method that allows evaluation of one’s own strengths and weaknesses in a specific task. The difference from hetero-evaluation and co-evaluation, is that the first is usually done by your boss or a superior and the latter is done by members of your group.

It’s possible to do self-assessments or self-appraisals through different methods. They are an essential tool in order to face with assurance any challenge. If we want a positive outcome it’s important to do a self-assessment in order to extract convenient conclusions and act accordingly.

Practice tests in driving education or at the end of a book chapter are examples of self-appraisals. Here you will find out everything you need to know so you can adequately estimate your knowledge and performance in different areas.

What are the purpose of self-appraisals?

We have all done have done a self-appraisal for one reason or another, be it to cause a good impression public speaking, to test our memory, or to inquire our strengths and weaknesses as friends or partners, etc. We will write the areas in which self-appraisal is key and how to use this tool.

Self-Appraisal in education

Regardless of the education stage, self-evaluation of knowledge, aptitude and cognitive abilities is essential to pass any subject. Generally, even if we haven’t done a self-assessment, when taking an exam or giving in a paper, we have an idea what the outcome might be. However, taking practice tests beforehand may help adjust our skills to the task objectives and help us overcome our academic challenges with precision and effectiveness. Self-appraisals allow each student to learn at their own pace in a responsible manner.

Nerves before an exam or a challenge is something natural in spite of our preparation. However, if we have practiced and corrected our mistakes previously we can tackle the task with trustworthiness and self-control. On the other hand, professors can also benefit from this tool to enhance their work performance or even make self-appraisal a class objective.

Neuroscience and educational neuroscience have aimed to improve formative assessments and self-appraisals in schools. CogniFit educational technology and platform, based on neuro-education, is one of the most popular and used computer-based program in educational neuroscience. It has been applied in different schools around the world with high effectiveness for all students, especially for students with special needs or learning disabilities.

Self-appraisal: CogniFit neuro-education evaluation

This scientific resource, designed to optimize self-appraisal and educational processes, has been created for educators and has proven to be quite effective in exploring cognitive processes involved in learning.

This CogniFit tool evaluates different cognitive areas that can help teachers, parents, and students know themselves better and identify certain neurological causes related to school failure.

Through this tool, CogniFit, develops personalized cognitive training and rehabilitation for children so that they can improve their cognitive abilities such as attention, memory, planning and others that are fundamental for learning and performance in different subjects.

How does it work? This tool is easy to use, the first is for students to develop a baseline by completing the full cognitive evaluation. This self-evaluation and its report will determine with precision which cognitive areas are strong and which require training. All of the brain games developed by CogniFit have been designed and validated clinically in order to identify cognitive strengths and weaknesses involved in learning.

Also, using the results of this initial evaluation, CogniFit program, designs and programs specific training for each child according to their needs.

School failure is one of the biggest concerns in the educational system. Therefore it is of importance to teach about brain knowledge in education.  For students to develop full learning skills it’s important for schools to have neuro-educative tools at their disposal.

Self-Appraisal at work

Self-assessment at the workplace should become a habit for most of us. Some companies ask their employees that they self-evaluate periodically while others just expect the initiative to come from themselves.

When faced with a promotion or discovering that we are not being efficient, it’s crucial to reflect on our strengths and weaknesses in order to maximize our capacities and correct our mistakes. To elaborate a previously reasonable diagnosis is the first step to problem resolution.

Moreover, self-appraisal is not the only thing necessary when evaluating our performance. If the analysis of our self-evaluation is correct, we can even manage to increment our motivation, self-efficacy, and self-control. Sometimes we are stuck in our ways and can’t see a different way of doing things, making it difficult to leave our comfort zone. However, asking ourselves if we are responsible, on time, team players, organized or have other qualities that are relevant for our job might help us find other opportunities. Stopping to examine our work situation in a holistic and unbiased way may open the doors to improving our performance, work relationship, correcting mistakes, etc.

Self-Appraisal in health

There are signs and symptoms relative to our mental and physical health that we can observe in our bodies. Checking our body for these signs is important when detecting or discarding any diseases. Negative thoughts and self-evaluations can cause acne or other skin problems. Nonetheless, if after a self-appraisal we notice something unusual it’s important not to rush into conclusions without consulting with a physician or other professionals capable of professionally making a diagnosis. Currently, there are several online cognitive assessments, that help us measure our cognitive abilities and understand brain areas and brain functions.

Self-evaluation in everyday life

It’s common for people to question their acts and thoughts. Have I offended him with my words? Is this outfit fit for an interview? It’s normal, healthy and acceptable to reflect on our day to day actions (unless we are being irrational or too hard on ourselves).

In this case, we don’t have specific parameters from which to make a self-evaluation. Everyone is free to choose what are their aspirations and goals. Our well-being depends mainly on who we want to be and what aspects we consider relevant. Therefore, our self-appraisals will differ from person to person.

There are no reliable, valid or fair guides about what models should we follow when doing a self-assessment, however, we must not let subjectiveness lead the way. Aspects such as our social relationships, how much time we dedicate to what makes us happy if we behave according to our values and other aspects of our personal life should be reviewed periodically in order to develop our personal growth.

Self-Appraisal: Examples

With these examples, you will be able to apply these different self-appraisal methods to the areas you consider most important. The most crucial thing to keep in mind is that you must feel comfortable with the method and it should adapt to your goals.

  • Book: textbooks usually have different chapters which end with a review section where they invite readers to critically think about aspects in the chapter and sometimes even include mini assessments or tests. This is a self-appraisal that allows checking how much knowledge we retained of the subject at hand.
  • Digital resources: Web pages and apps that enable us to evaluate our knowledge are in constant growth. Online self-appraisals or self-evaluations give immediate answers to different questions and are accessible at any moment in time. Unfortunately, they are limited to closed answers and don’t leave much space for creative answers. For example, we can download tests on a specific topic in Biology or on our knowledge of emotions.
  • Self-appraisal sheet: We can write how we think we did in a specific activity, the areas that need improvement, our strengths, how much progress have we made since our last self-appraisal, etc. We may find a document that already includes the questions we need or custom make it fit your needs. In order to create your own, it’s paramount to think about relevant things (for example, Am I nice to strangers), order and rate them accordingly.

Regardless of the format, the fundamental aspect is that we know how to interpret our results and continue practicing motivated. Any resource that helps us learn, maintain information and retain content will contribute to further skill building in any field.

Self-Appraisal: Benefits

Self-evaluations have many benefits, that combined with other strategies are a fantastic tool.

  • They are fit for any age: From preschoolers to older adults can benefit from this tool and learn to be critical about themselves (in a healthy way). In each stage in life we have interests and different missions, therefore, we have to self-evaluate ourselves in different spheres. No matter the case, a self-assessment is always going to be helpful.
  • They grant us to know our level in a specific task: Sometimes we think we have tried everything in order to reach our goals. We have been polite to our neighbors, we have read loads of information on leadership, etc. However, we might not be adapting how we should to the different circumstances. If the self-appraisal is done correctly, it is easier for us to tackle our goals with a more realistic approach.
  • Useful way to practice: Self-appraisal facilitates knowledge and abilities in a flexible and practical way that we can adapt to our needs. They are a perfect addition to activities we decide to do, regardless of the activity itself.
  • Reinforces knowledge: When taking a moment to establish new goals, we usually review the subjects we studied or focus on a specific aspect of our life. When performing a self-evaluation we tend to make connections between ideas, enabling for them to be retained in our long-term memory.
  • Helps us get to know ourselves better: Self-appraisal stimulates self-examination. It not only allows us to dive in our general knowledge but also leads us to question personal aspects of ourselves regardless of the purpose of the self-evaluation. For example, the things we most question are our sense of responsibility, virtues, defects, etc.
  • Encourages independence: self-appraisal is a habit we should incorporate in our lives since it permits us to control our progress and deficits and helps us be more responsible and independent when dealing with tasks.
  • Increases our motivation: Receiving feedback can motivate us to continue working hard. Knowing our deficiencies and still being able to get good results is a good incentive to continue. Are you up for a self-appraisal?

Self-Appraisal: Tips to improve learning

Do self-evaluation relaxed

If you are tired, stressed or for some reason can’t concentrate in the self-appraisal, it’s better to postpone it. If you carry on in that state, your performance will decrease and your results won’t be representative.

Be realistic

Only by performing a self-assessment we won’t progress, we need to establish a specific goal. For example: improve our memory.

Be honest with yourself

It’s tempting to perform a self-appraisal guided by a book that contains answers or have a friend help us answer, or search the internet for the best option, etc. However, this is just a way to cheat ourselves. If we want to take advantage of this tool, we have to be as truthful as possible.

See failure as a good thing

It’s normal to fail and our self-appraisals will not be what we expected. Don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s important to recognize our mistakes but also our merits. It’s important to know the weight of our criticism on ourselves. Pessimism will only come back as negative performance.

Be organized

If you want to progress it’s important to be systematic in your actions and never stop challenging yourself. If meditating these aspects is difficult, set a time and place for self-appraisal, it doesn’t take much time and the benefits are worth it.

Test different types of self-appraisal

You might not like a multiple choice test but rather short essay questions where you can write about your opinions and knowledge. It’s ok to try different methods and you can even combine as many as you like in order to achieve a broader perspective.

Take advantage of new technologies

Recently, neuro-education is booming. Thanks to new advances in this field and in different technologies, life is changing rapidly and many resources are being created to increase the quality of life. Each day we have more information on how our brain works.

CogniFit is a leading company in cognitive evaluation and cognitive stimulation. It’s mainly for professional researchers and doctors. However, anyone can have access to its online platform. Through different and fun brain games it makes it possible to detect and train cognitive areas that need a bit more exercise.

 

Thank you for reading. Have you ever performed a self-appraisal? Do you think it’s a good tool? What strategies do you use? Please feel free to comment below.

 

This article is originally in Spanish by Ainhoa Arranz Aldana, translated by Alejandra Salazar.