Jump to content

Submissions/Mirror Neuron Portal to Empathy

From Wikimania 2012 • Washington, D.C., USA

This is a rejected submission for Wikimania 2012.

Submission no.


Title of the submission

Mirror Neurons Portal to Empathy

Type of submission (workshop, tutorial, panel, presentation)


Author of the submission

Oliver Yaney

E-mail address




Country of origin


Affiliation, if any (organization, company etc.)

University of Colorado at Boulder and Conference on World Affairs

Personal homepage or blog
Abstract (at least 300 words to describe your proposal)

The workshop would involve engaging two willing participants in a breakthrough neuroscience-related technique. All that is required is a full-body mirror and secluded space for the two participants. In the beginning of the experiment the subjects position themselves at roughly 45 degree angles from the perpendicular to the mirror plane. They each look at the mirror and are positioned so that they can see one another in the reflection but are unable to see themselves (i.e. each participant's own image reflection is out of range of the mirror). Locking eyes with each other via the mirror, they then proceed to mimick one another's actions in a fashion so as to obtain the aesthetic experience of actually being that other person. In brief instances (in seclusion) these participants should feel bursts of empathy for their partner's aesthetic experience as he/she goes through the other's motions.

Specific suggestions for exploration/empathy arousal....

1. Have one person speak the words of some mutually known phrases while the other mouths the same words in tandem (all the while keeping eye contact). This integrates an auditory component - the feeling of having the other person's voice.

- lines of a movie (being in character can help)
- words to a song (singing it can help)
- famous sayings/phrases (i.e. ask not what your country can do for you...)

2. Show the two participants how to engage in some fundamental motor reflexes

- sitting down and standing up, raising opposite legs
- doing jumping jacks 
- scratching one's head or other areas of the body
- yawning 
- laughing 
- covering the mouth in expression of exasperation
- various other well-known facial expressions

After the 10-30 minute exposure (depending on how long it takes or how much time is allotted), participants should feel as if they are, in some ways, their partner or at least an intimate connection. This has facilitated a realm of greater mutualistic empathy (or sympathy) for each of the 12 participants I've personally studied and practiced with over the past few years. I've found that this technique is easier with two participants who already have known each other for awhile. It can be even easier for people of the same height and gender and race and age (i.e. relative appearance) but can still be applied to people of less aesthetic similarity with no relationship whatsoever to the partner.

Experimental/Theoretical Basis:

The experimental basis of this experiment has yet only been evidenced loosely by a neurological study of amputees who were suffering from phantom limb syndrome who flexed their good arm in front of a mirror to simulate the presence of their non-existant arm. It was shown in this study, titled, "Mirror Therapy for Phantom Limb Pain," and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007, that the procedure served to aide severed neuronal connections from the amputation in their finding of a new path for growth and connection. This relieved patients from the painful nervous twinges of phantom-limb syndrome. This could, therefore, be an opportunity for study and perhaps data acquisition from the participants who were willing. In the past this seemed to encourage interest in active participation in some workshop (see Denver Museum of Nature and Science "Genetics of Taste" experiment).

Theoretically, the "mirror" neurons form in the occipital lobe (and temporal lobes for audition) of each person's brain and facilitate empathy through generation of projections similar to those of the partner. This involves so many complex interconnections through the cortex and subcortical structures (including perceptions of oneself in a mirror as it differs from perceptions of one's bod from a 1st-person perspective) that an fMRI would be required to study the results, accompanied by a comprehensive empathy questionnaire.

An aside...

Soon, I plan on creating and submitting a grant proposal for the actual experiment in question, as a graduate student in the field of neuroscience, but the true and pressing intent of the Mirror Neuron Portal to Empathy is for it to be widely used across America by the layman in order to facilitate increased empathy/awareness of one another. Considering the Wikipedia/Wikimania's goal of the public dispersal and subjective influence of data via the internet, this a prime and unpatentable method of modernist free and open data acquisition practicum that resonates with the core feminine moralities of the Wikipedia organization. Based on reactions I've heard so far I expect this to be a big hit at Wikimania. I would love to finally be able to be more of a donor to the program and am willing to help lead the presentation via presentation and demonstration of the stated workshop.

Length of presentation/talk

10-25 minutes

Will you attend Wikimania if your submission is not accepted?

If I am in the area.

Slides or further information (optional)
Special request as to time of presentations


Interested attendees

If you are interested in attending this session, please sign with your username below. This will help reviewers to decide which sessions are of high interest. Sign with four tildes. (~~~~).

  1. Add your username here.