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I woke this morning with a couple of lines of a Barry Manilow tune in my head:

“I feel sad when you’re sad; I feel glad when you’re glad . . .”

They’re from the song “Can’t Smile Without You” and they are a clear statement of what mirror neurons do. The mirror neuron is a type of brain cell that fires when you take some action and when you watch someone else in action. It’s as though your brain thinks you are taking an action, even if you are merely observing an action. Scientists are hypothesizing about the role mirror neurons have in human altruism, empathy, and learning.

Mirror neurons explain why, when my husband is in a bad mood, I catch that bad mood and when he’s in a good mood, I catch the good mood. It also explains the following two articles: An icy stare might be more than a metaphor, from MSNBC, and Happiness Spreads Like the Plague, from Discover Magazine.

One day at work, I took a call that made me feel uncertain about what I knew. At first I couldn’t figure out why I was questioning myself about basic information, but when the person called back, I realized what was happening. The caller was speaking in a halting manner and couldn’t seem to properly gather his thoughts. My mirror neurons were reflecting the caller’s behavior. Once I realized this was happening, I was able to collect myself and feel certain again.

Have you noticed effects of mirror neurons, of picking up someone else’s mood or behavior, in your own life?

For the curious, a few more articles on mirror neurons:

I feel your pain – Salon

Cells That Read Minds – The New York Times

Mirror, Mirror In The Brain – Science Daily