Monday, November 19, 2012

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2196:
Cross Species Body Language
Contagious Yawning of Dogs Mirroring Humans
An Indicator of What Dog Lovers Already Knew -
Canine Empathy

This is very interesting study, but as the title suggests, dog lovers have been aware of this and other more complex empathy canine (and other animals) behaviors for millennia. When there is a good amount of "like-mindedness" between two people - or as the study says, between people and their dogs - a "mirroring" of behavior often occurs. One type of neuron which helps to govern this behavior is known as a mirror neuron. Collectively these are known as the Mirror-Neuron-System (MNS). "A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another." Such mirroring involves an extremely wide variety of behaviors - physical actions, emotions or amalgamations of both (not just yawning). Thus another, superior name for these cells could be "Empathy Neurons". Many a dog has been observed to mourn with the passing of a human (or dog) family member.

There are many definitions of the phenomenon of empathy. Heinz Kohut defined empathy as, the capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person (and we may add: group of people or animal/animals).

The feeling and expression of empathy is a fundamental component of a healthy and happy life. We cry when we see or hear others cry - as well as "feel" their sadness; and we are more likely to laugh when we witness others laughter - and feel their joy. Mirror neurons also engender the learning process - e.g. think of how natural it is for a young mind to learn any language in which they're immersed. Some neuropsychcologists feel that different types of defects in these neurons (or perhaps different sub-types of mirror neurons) may contribute to a wide variety of conditions - such as autism, - and even extremes as narcissistic personality disorder and sociopathic-psychopathic behavior and some criminal behaviors. If so, it is interesting to speculate at how a person who lacks suffers from any of the above conditions may benefit from a cell/tissue transplant from a donor of healthy mirror neurons. I believe it is not a matter of "if", only "when".

See also:

Nonverbal Communication Secret # 1717: Why is Yawning Contagious? What is its connection to Autism?  and Empathy?

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 20: Fiero Feels Good, Caroline Wozniacki & Our Mirror Neurons

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2052: Dialing Up Empathy and Sincerity -  Mitt Romney's & Barack Obama's Response to  Aurora, Colorado "Batman Shooting" 

Nonverbal Communication Exercise # 2012: Got Empathy? An Appeal to Asma al-Assad  Diplomacy through Unconventional Channels

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2193:  Keira Knightley interview re: "Anna Karenina" -  Body Language of "R2E2" Facial Expression