Tuesday, March 22, 2005
The New Leaf Project Details:
New Leaf is a series of public art events by Carol Ann Newsome. New Leafs are planted in a specific area to be unexpectedly encountered and turned over. Each New Leaf is a unique acrylic painting on a hand made wood panel, measuring 3.5 X 4.5 inches. The panels are cut by my friend Brian. I sand, seal and paint each one. Each leaf has a label informing the person holding it that they have just turned over a New Leaf (since the label is on the back this is a factual occurrence) and that they may keep the leaf and turn it over whenever they wish. There is an e-mail address on the back for anyone who cares to share their new leaf experience. Every project involves a number of planters who place the paintings surreptitiously in the target area. A minimum of 5,000 New Leafs will be distributed.
What is New Leaf? from Carol Ann Newsome - A New Leaf is an original acrylic painting of a single leaf on a small wood block. I paint each New Leaf myself. On the back of each New Leaf is a label which states “You have just turned over a New Leaf. You may keep this New Leaf. Turn it over as often as you wish.” Each Leaf is signed and includes my e-mail address on the back.
Interested in being a "planter"? or simply write to Carol Ann at: NewLeaf@carolannnewsome.com
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Anyway, to help some of you all out, I found some links:
Good computer history site with pictures and a glossary of old terms. But not extensive enough in my opinion.
Teletypes similar to what my dad's first homemade computer had before he was able to snag a broken monitor and repair it. The ASR33 was the model I think we had.
Punch cards. Only when we got them, they already had holes punched in them. We used them for all sorts of crafts. At one time, people made Christmas wreaths with them.
The write-protect ring I talk about, you can find on this page. Do a CNTL-F and type in "tape". A short scroll down will show you a magnetic tape reel and the plastic ring I'm talking about.
I wanted to find a picture of the oscilloscope my dad had when I was little, but that would have taken me forever. Instead, here's a page about what an oscilloscope is.
History of the Apple II computer and Apple II text files.
If there is anything else I've mentioned that you don't get, leave a comment and I'll try to help.
Monday, March 14, 2005
Some ramblings about earlier computers and my current dependence on the Internet. I am getting really dizzy again, so I'm going to take more medicine and go back to bed. I might finish my series tonight or tomorrow.
Sunday, March 13, 2005
After that, though, I will probably post an audio blog entry only occasionally.
Saturday, March 12, 2005
He made a lot of comments after that presentation. My summary of what I got from those comments:
- People are more likely to develop PSTD from a man-made event than a natural disaster. Some of this may be due to the amount of rage or guilt the victim feels. Having a human cause makes the damage more personal.
- Grief and trauma recovery works best if allowed to naturally resolve itself during the following 6 to 8 weeks. If it is still a major disturbance to daily activities after that, then help should be sought.
- The time for mental health relief is NOT immediately after the disaster, but two months after and it has to be long term help and not short term sessions.
- There is a place for mental health workers right after a disaster. That place is handing out food, helping people fill out FEMA forms and other volunteer work.
- PSTD is often caused from a feeling of helplessness. People who have something to do after a major disaster are much less likely to develop trauma from it. (Which explains why I felt better while I was working at the nearby Air Force base during the aftermath of 9/11. I had a purpose and even though it was only a supportive function of support staff, it was helping the situation.)
He talked about a few other things that he experienced helping out during those disasters. Most of it was very emotional and striking. Some of it was how he dealt with 9/11 to keep himself stable enough to help others.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) (2003). Adopted Revised Standards and Application Procedures for Registration. Retrieved March 10, 2005 from http://www.atcb.org/
The Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB). Retrieved March 10, 2005 from http://www.atcb.org/
Berlyne, D. E. (1960). Conflict, Arousal and Curiosity. New York: McGraw Hill.
Champernowne, I. (1971). Art and Therapy: An Uneasy Partnership. American Journal of Art Therapy 10(3) (April): 131-43.
Crook, J. (1980). The Evolution of Human Consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cunningham-Dax, E. (1953). Experimental Studies in Psychiatric Art. London: Faber.
Dubowski, J. K. (1982). Alternative Models for Describing the Development from Scribble to Representation in Childrens’ Graphic Work. Proceedings of the two-day conference: ‘Art and Dramatherapy’, Hertfordshire College of Art and Design, St Albans, 22 and 23 April.
Fincher, Susanne F. (1991). Creating Mandalas - For Insight, Healing and Self-Expression. Boston, MA: Shambala Publications, Inc.
Freud, S. (1951). Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, Complete Psychological Works, vol. 7. London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-analysis.
Freud, S. (1971). The Complete Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. London: Allen & Unwin.
Freud, S. (1973). Part II: Dreams. In New Introductory Lectures in Psychoanalysis, vol. 15. London: Hogarth Press.
Fuller, P., Dalley, T., Waller, D., Henzell, J., Birtchnell, J., Dubowski, J. K., Wood, M., Robinson, M., Murphy, J., Stott, J., Males, B. (1984). Art as Therapy: An introduction to the use of art as a therapeutic technique. (T. Dalley, Ed.). New York: Tavistock/Routledge.
Kahn, Beverly B. (1999). Art therapy with adolescents: Making it work for school counselors. Professional School Counseling; APR 99, Vol. 2 Issue 4, p291.
Kramer, E. (1958). Art Therapy in a Children’s Community. Springfield, IL.: C. C. Thomas.
Laing, J. (1974). Art Therapy: Painting Out the Puzzle of the Inner Mind. New Psychiatry 6 (Nov. 28): 16-18.
Naumberg, M. (1958). Art Therapy: Its Scope and Function. In E.F.Hammer (ed.) Clinical Applications of Projective Drawings. Springfield, IL.: C. C. Thomas.
Naumberg, M. (1966). Dynamically Orientated Art Therapy: Its Principles and Practice. New York: Grune & Stratton.
Perls, F. (1973). The Gestalt Approach and Eye Witness to Therapy. New York: Bantam Books.
Riordan, Richard J. & Verdel, Anne C. (1991). Evidence of sexual abuse in children's art products. School Counselor; Nov 91, Vol. 39 Issue 2, p 116.
Rogers, C. (1976). Client-Centered Therapy. London: Constable.
Shoemaker, Roberta Hastings (1977). The Significance of the First Picture in Art Therapy. The Dynamics of Creativity, The Proceedings of the Eighth Annual Conference of the American Art Therapy Association, by the AATA Publications Comm. Baltimore.
St Clair, M., & Wigren, J. (2003). Object Relations and Self Psychology: An Introduction. Florence: Wadsworth.
Stern, M. (1952). Free Painting as an Auxiliary Technique in Psychoanalysis. In G. Bychowski and J. L. Despert Specialized Techniques in Psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.
Ulman, E. (1961). Art Therapy: Problems of Definition. Bulletin of Art Therapy 1(2): 10-20.
Winnicott, D. (1971). Playing and Reality. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
1) Henry Schafer-Simmern showed through working with many different groups of clients that art expression naturally evolves on its own over time in anyone, without teaching of concepts or exercises, if given the opportunity. (Allen, p xviii)
2) J.K. Dubowski suggested that the “ability and eagerness to produce marks seems innate.“ At approximately 18 months of age the human child starts to draw.
3) Margarita Wood suggested that “thinking in pictures lies at the root of awareness.“ (Dalley, 1984)
4) Perceived as less threatening than many traditional interventions. (Kahn, ¶ 2)
5) It provides a permanent record of the client's mental state. (Kahn, ¶ 7)
6) It's flexible enough to be used with more than one approach and can be very client-centered, giving a safe outlet for disturbing themes. (Kahn, ¶ 5)
1) “Stereotyped behaviors occur at times when the level of stimulation available to the individual is either too low or too high.“ -- J. K. Dubowski (1984)
2) Naumberg (1958:514) “It is especially difficult to free an artist from the tyranny of his technical knowledge. When archaic forms begin to break through from his unconscious, during treatment, the artist becomes eager to capitalize, immediately, on this new content for his professional work. He must then be persuaded to postpone the application of such unconscious imagery to conscious work until therapy is completed.”
3) Freud (1951:21) “Thinking in pictures is, therefore, only a very incomplete form of becoming conscious.”
4) Champernowne (1971): Logical analysis and translation of pictured ideas into words can be dangerous and destructive in the hands of inexperienced therapists. This is why a good analysis for any therapist is a great advantage. He should then know how not to interfere. The art form has its own validity and to translate from one language to another is bound to bring loss or error.”
5) Cunningham-Dax and Reitman: criticized Freudian and Jungian analysis, suggested that the therapist ‘pre-determines’ art work by their interpretations. Though Cunningham-Dax emphasized the passive role (Cunningham-Dax, 1953), ‘observed that when Adamson was absent, attendances at the studio declined and those who painted did poor work of little psychiatric value.’
C. Disagreements amongst practitioners
1) Some argue that the art therapist is essentially a trained artist who does therapy and there are those who argue that he is essentially a trained psychotherapist who does art. (Birtchnell, 1984) We believe it depends on the individual art therapist.
2) Spontaneity and self-revelation should be at the heart of therapy, rather than any learned techniques by the artist. Dalley (1984) suggests that this works better in group setting where other group members do not have skill to hide behind. In many cases art therapy caused lasting change in an artist’s performance.
3) Shaun McNiff worked with inhabitants of a state hospital. (Allen, p xv) Saw his clients' art as keys to their soul, more than clinical data. (Allen, p xix)
A) Adolescents with learning disabilities. (Kahn, ¶ 4)
B) Clients with an inability to express themselves verbally. (Shoemaker, p. 3)
C) Clients with an inability to express difficult feelings such as anger, grief, despair, depression or bizarre fantasy. (Shoemaker, p. 3)
D) If the client is out of touch with emotions and acting out. (Shoemaker, p. 3)
E) If a client is over-intellectualized and out of touch with the significance of irrational actions.
(Shoemaker, p. 3)
F) If a patient has insufficient insight and a low self-esteem to support reflection on unpleasant aspects of himself. (Shoemaker, p. 3)
V. Certification as an Art Therapist
A. Voluntary certification through the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) and not
equivalent to a state license or credential.
1) ATR - Registered Art Therapist
2) ATR-BC - Board Certified Registered Art Therapist
B. General Expectations
1) Responsible for knowing and following federal and state laws regarding licensing or
certification of human service/mental health practitioners.
2) Check their own federal and state laws and regulations to learn whether there are state
imposed restrictions on how art therapists may advertise, practice, or otherwise
represent themselves to the public.
C. Three Options for meeting ATR Educational Requirements
1) A master’s degree in Art Therapy from a program approved at the time of your
graduation by the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) Educational Program
2) A master’s degree in Art Therapy from a program not approved at the time of your
graduation by the AATA Educational Program Approval Board.
3) A master’s degree in a related field and additional graduate coursework in Art
D. Other Requirements for an ATR Certification
1) At least 3 references
2) Application Form from Adopted Revised Standards and Application Procedures for
Registration. Effective Date July 1, 2003 - The American Art Therapy Association
3) Verification of Coursework
4) Verification of Practicum
5) Verification of Experience
E. Board Certification
1) Must be an ATR in good standing.
2) Pass the Board Certification Examination
3) Recertification is required every five years.
4) Candidates must maintain documentation verifying completion of 100 continuing
education credits within the past five years in the following areas:
a) Psychological and Psychotherapeutic Theories and Practice
b) Art Therapy Assessment
c) Art Therapy Theory and Practice
d) Client Populations
e) Art Therapy and Media
f) Professionalism, Ethics, and Multiculturalism
1. The illumination of indistinct and unconscious expression is large part of psychoanalytic technique. (Fuller 1984)
2. An art therapist using the behavioral approach would use art to adjust cultural and social norms. (Fuller 1984)
3. An art therapist can use two and three dimensional materials for flexibility in art therapy. (Fuller 1984)
4. According to Dalley (1984) there are two stages of art therapy:
a) The client creates a piece of art. During that period of time the client may isolate themselves and withdraw into their thoughts and reflections
b) The client talks about their art production, any feelings they have, how that art is a reflection of those feelings, and how the making of that art reflects their state of being.
5. Basic approaches: directive or non-directive. (Dalley 1984)
6. Group Art therapy creates powerful group dynamics using projective art groups. Themes are introduced for a shared foundation that each group member adds their own personal meaning to. This method encourages both personal and group examination of problems. (Dalley 1984)
7. A family based art therapy approach exemplifies a client’s view of his or her role within the family unit. (Dalley 1984)
1) Free associative art - "Letting the painting paint itself" or portraying dreams with artwork, while writing down or otherwise noting other associations that come to mind while doing the art. (Allen, p 53-55, 61-63)
2) Scribble Drawings - Tape a large white piece of paper to a wall, close your eyes, take a pastel of any color and let it meander in overlapping lines. Draw loosely, from the shoulders. Open your eyes. See what image is there and then add what is needed to make the image complete or come to life. (Allen, p 55 - 59) This technique is good for personal problem solving. (Allen, p 136)
3) Active Imagination - Developed by Carl Jung. Taking a dream or a dream image and letting a story unfold from it. Alternate imagining, recording in words and drawing the images. (Allen, p 76-83)
4) Masks - Masks can represent "faces" of ourselves. (Allen, p. 81-82, 113-114) Similar to some primitive cultures, making masks of deceased loved ones helps to deal with the grief. (Allen, 127-140) Masks can also help resolve issues with long deceased relatives. (Allen, p.165-167)
5) Found sculptures - client creates three dimensional art using objects that they have "found" around them. A nature walk or on a trip to a junk store can provide suitable materials. These objects should be things that either delight, intrigue, confuse or repel the client. It is up to the client to figure out how these pieces should go together and be fastened. (Allen, p. 33-35)
6) Collages - Using images from family photos, magazines and other sources can help a client connect and/or explore their personal history and the connections with family and society. (Allen, p 144-145)
7) Mandalas - Creating circular drawings helps to symbolize "wholeness" or the intention to be whole. It is often a very calming task. (Allen, p. 192) Releases tension and gives a holistic way to examine inner conflicts using Jungian principles. (Fincher, p. 24-32) Also allows the client to focus themselves mentally. (Fincher, p. 175)
8) Art journals are a useful way to keep track of creative works and writing down any associations that come with them. (Fincher, p. 29)
A. Goals and Objectives
1. General Goal
a) To connect with the inner world of unconscious feelings. ( Allen, p 53)
2. Goals in an Institutional Setting (Shoemaker, p. 3 - 4)
a) To facilitate self-expression via active problem solving.
b) To focus energies toward creative, constructive activities, and away from destructive and self destructive behaviors.
c) To allow expressive opportunities to serve as catharsis, while challenging rigidified defenses and entrenched pathologies.
d) As an integrative experience utilizing emotive, kinesthetic and cognitive functioning.
e) Allow the patient to explore, through the reflection of himself in artwork, his choice of personal definitions, to receive personalized feedback, to help define personal problems.
f) Set the stage for the exploration of creative alternatives, solutions and conflict resolution.
3. For those who have "no hope of getting better"(severe mental handicaps, psychogeriatricts, long term institutionalized etc.) (Dalley, 1984)
a) provide enjoyment, exploration and stimulation- probably their only outlet for individual expression, stimulation & creative occupation. (Dalley, 1984)
B. Client/Therapist Relationship
a) Rogers (1976) suggested a client centered approach to psychotherapy. He suggested that there are 3 important factors that are essential to the therapeutic progress: warmth, empathy, genuineness.
b) Transference occurs in art therapy when strong feelings arise between the therapist and the client, though much effort is made to keep art production as the focus of the association. (Dalley, 1984)
2. Client's Role
a) Understands that their works of art may be psychologically picked apart. (Laing 1974:17) This understanding does affect the production of art. (Cunningham-Dax, 1953)
b) Active participation and cooperation from the client is an important part of art therapy in order for an art therapist to initiate an interpretation of a piece of art. (Dalley, 1984)
i) A client demonstrates progress by expressing verbally what is represented in the art form. (Birtchnell)
ii) The client moves talking about their art and what it represents into taking action. (Birtchnell)
3. Therapist's Role
a) Art-in-therapy - the therapist acts as interpreter. (Kahn, ¶ 5)
b) Art-as-therapy - the counselor is a facilitator. (Kahn, ¶ 5)
c) A therapist should use the art as the focal point in therapy which should involve talking about and talking to the art content. (Birtchnell)
C. Concepts and Beliefs
1. Beliefs of Man
a) It relies on the psychoanalytical notion that man is driven by unconscious desires. (Kahn, ¶ 4)
b) "The process of art therapy is based on the recognition that man’s most fundamental thoughts and feelings, derived from the unconscious, reach expression in images rather than words" (Naumberg 1958: 511)
a) Freud: "secondary processes" (verbal, rational, analytic modes of thought) and "primary processes" (imaginative, symbolic, non-verbal modes).
b) "A therapeutic procedure is one designed to assist favourable changes in personality or in living that will outlast the session itself" (Ulman, 1961:19)
c) Witnessing - the client showing their art to someone who is accepting to validate the client's images. (Allen, p 87, 108-110)
d) Honoring the resistance - explore the fears and what they are protecting, but don't push or rush understanding of them. (Allen, p 63 & 75)
3. Main Concepts
a) Art in therapy combines both conscious and unconscious expression through concrete activity. (Ulman, 1961:19)
b) "The process of art therapy is based on the recognition that man’s most fundamental thoughts and feelings, derived from the unconscious, reach expression in images rather than words" (Naumberg 1958: 511)
c) In the creative act, conflict is re-experienced, resolved and integrated (Kramer 1958:6)
i) Stern 1952: Magic mastery through pictorial presentation is a regression to the identical stage of adaptation to reality in which the original traumata, now pressing for reparation, occurred; in most cases to the preverbal phase. The technique used in therapeutic painting is on a level with thinking and of expression, it is on the same plane as the unconscious thought itself."
d) Laing 1974:17: "every original art production by the patient is in some degree an aspect of that person. No-one else can create the same result on paper or canvas. Art therapy offers an area where the patient can proclaim his identity and it offers an atmosphere where he can be himself… Art offers a medium which can give both communication with others and confrontation with the self."
e) "The blocking of energy and various limitations to available energy for problem solving are important observations available to the art therapist." (Shoemaker, p 17)
f) Images can have both personal and archetypal meanings. (Allen, p.103-105)
g) Fear distorts the images.
i) the distortions within images become less as the fear is dealt with.
(Allen, p 197)
ii) Sexually abuse children will often distort genitals and other areas of
abuse in their drawings. (Riordan, ¶ 10)
h) Images are patterns - people tend to repeat certain life scenes. They need to understand the familiar patterns and images before they can create new ones. (Allen, p 198)
i) "Art is an expressive, nonverbal format that discloses a child's inner reality." (Riordan, ¶ 6)
j) Melanie Klein, an Object Relations theorist, suggested that art therapy can be used for a client to progress through stages of development.
4. Basic Principles
a) Art is a concrete object that is visually presented for everyone to see. (Birtchnell 1984)
b) Art in therapy is created for a specific reason, and for specific people. John Birtchnell (1984) suggested that "the destructibility is an important quality: Sometimes the actual destroying of a picture and the way it is destroyed can be a positive component of therapy."
c) Art can represent and recreate something, someone, or an event from the past. (Birtchnell 1984)
d) Art can safely represent something that causes the client fear. (Birtchnell 1984)
e) Art allows the client to fantasize about actions that they are not allowed to enact in reality. John Birtchnell (1984) suggested that "accepting and owning the less acceptable aspects of oneself means that less energy is spent denying their existence."
f) Art provides an outlet for activities that the client may deem bizarre . (Birtchnell 1984)
g) Art is a metaphor. (Birtchnell 1984)
h) Art may represent the past, present or the future. (Birtchnell 1984)
g) Artwork should be dated and sequenced to be able to see the progression within the client's work and any patterns that may emerge over time. (Fincher, p. 27)
5. What Art Therapy is Not: (Dalley, 1984)
a) Not only for potential artists or those with natural talent in the subject. Majority of patients who are treated successfully have neither drawn nor painted before.
b) Art therapists are not teachers.
c) Art therapy is not a form of occupational therapy.
d) Art therapy is not a diagnosis through art. Clinical assessments made by taking an overall account of art work and how it has developed and changed during course of therapy.
I. The Foundation of Art Therapy
A. Reasons for Development.
1. As a means to further psychoanalytical analysis. (Kahn, ¶ 4)
a) Because of the resemblance of aesthetic creations to dreams, art therapy has traditionally fitted well with either analytic psych of Jung or Freudian psychoanalysis. (Reich 1960)
2. As a means to communicate what cannot be spoken clearly by the client. (Ulman, 1961:II)
B. Summary of the History. (Fuller et al, 1984)
1. ADRIAN HILL started art therapy, turned to his own paintings as a release from boredom and stress while in a tuberculosis sanatorium during WWII.
2. The term: "Art Therapy" coined in Britain during 1940’s, in 1980 criteria for the professional training of art therapists were founded.
3. In a state psychiatric hospital, Netherne, first art therapist employed in 1946 was EDWARD ADAMSON.
4. Art therapy gradually moved in direction of psychotherapy in 1970’s, totally separating from art teaching.
5. In 1980, according to the Dept of Health and Social Security (DHSS), art therapy officially separated from occupational therapy.
C. Key Theorists.
1. SIGMUND FREUD
a) "For there is a path that leads back from phantasy to reality- the path, that is, of art." (Freud 1973: 423).
b) "Nothing takes place in a psychoanalytic treatment but an interchange of words between the patient and the analyst." (Freud 1951:17).
c) Latent meaning, a concealed psychodynamic, might rhetorically "manifest" itself in a behavioral expression. (Freud 1951:17).
2. CARL JUNG
a) Developed active imagination technique. (Allen, p 76)
b) Introduced mandala drawings to modern psychology. (Fincher, p 19)
3. D. W. WINNICOTT
a) Suggested that there is a need for third area of human experiencing that is a combination of "subjective fantasy" as well as "objective knowledge".
b) "If only we can wait, the patient arrives at understanding creatively and with immense joy, and I now enjoy this more than I used to enjoy the sense of having been clever. I think I interpret mainly to let the patient know the limits of my understanding. The principle is that it is the patient and only the patient who has the answers. We may or may not enable him or her to encompass what is known or become aware of it with acceptance." (Winnicott 1971:102.)
4. FRITZ PERL
a) Exposure and self-revelation. "Dare I reveal my true self to the world?"
b) "Take responsibility for your every thought, your every feeling, your every action." (Perl 1978)
5. EDITH KRAMER
a) Used art with institutionalized children. (Allen, p xv)
b) Suggests "that art as a form of therapy has arisen to fill a void created by the depleting nature of contemporary work in tandem with the demise of the participatory folk art tradition and the rise of spectator recreation." (Allen, p xvii)
6. MARGARET NAUMBERG
a) Worked with institutionalized clients. (Allen, p xv)
b) Her sister, FLORENCE CANE, created methods to help her art students access authentic personal imagery, which Naumburg adapted to her own clients with mental illness. (Allen, p xvii)
7. WILHELM REICH (1960)
a) Stressed upon value of catharsis, or the dramatic release of powerful emotions.
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Action therapies are far more likely to impose outside values on the client. In fact, that is why they get such quick results. It's also why they only last a few years. Now, an ethical action therapist would take pains not to let their personal beliefs be imposed on the client, but it's something they always have to be aware of because it is so easy to do.
Insight therapies, on the other hand, are designed to explore the client's own values and what formed those values. The main idea is that you have to work with what is there, instead of over-riding it. Most insight therapies are geared to helping the client create their own set of workable values, based on their own experience and knowledge, while giving just enough guidence to keep things from getting stalled. They are to help the client understand WHY they do want they do, so they can choose their behavior based on self-knowledge versus training themselves to do certain behaviors to make life bearable.
Of course, it's often necessary to do a bit of both types. Especially with the restrictions dictated by insurance companies for mental health care.
But it's really hard for me to keep a straight face when someone tells me they don't like people messing with their heads, when I know they've used cognitive behaviorial techniques for some of their quirks.
Monday, March 07, 2005
Rude software causes emotional trauma
The fact that this pain was caused by computers ignoring the user suggests interface designers and software vendors must work especially hard to keep their customers happy, and it's not surprising that failing and buggy software is so frustrating. If software can cause the same emotional disturbance as physical pain, it won't be long before law suits are flying through the courts for abuse sustained at the hands of shoddy programming.
Saturday, March 05, 2005
Thanks to Rob Carlson for
bringing it my attention.
From the Wall Street Journal --
How Mirror Neurons Help Us to Empathize,
Really Feel Others' Pain
by Sharon Begley
As the argument at the bar grows more heated, you notice that
you're right in the flight path should the ranting man decide
to turn glassware into missiles. You watch tensely as he
clasps and unclasps the tumbler in front of him, and then
suddenly his grip changes. Is he about to take a gulp ... or
fire the glass in your direction?
If you duck just as it sails over your head, you can thank a
cluster of neurons whose existence scientists didn't even know
about a few years ago: mirror neurons.
Their modest name reflects their most obvious function but
hardly does justice to their talents, which neuroscientists
seem to uncover more of every time they look -- from intuiting
other people's intentions to feeling their pain. Literally.
"Mirror neurons promise to do for neuroscience what DNA did
for biology," neurobiologist V.S. Ramachandran of the
University of California, San Diego, has written, explaining
"a host of mental abilities that have remained mysterious."
In 1992, biologists at the University of Parma, Italy, were
probing the brains of macaque monkeys when they made a curious
discovery. It had been known for years that brain cells in the
premotor cortex, the area that plans movements, fire right
before the monkey grasps, manipulates or reaches for something
such as fruit. But it turns out that these specialized neurons
also fire when the monkey sees someone else (monkey or human)
do so. Whether planning a movement or seeing one, mirror
neurons fire the same way: The firing pattern that precedes,
say, the monkey's lifting a raisin to its mouth is identical
to the pattern when it sees someone else doing that.
The human brain has mirror neurons, too, and recently
neuroscientists have been behaving like Egyptologists after
the discovery of the Rosetta Stone: using mirror neurons to
explain a backlog of enigmas.
For one thing, mirror neurons may be how we understand the
intentions of other people, a crucial social skill whether or
not you frequent fight-prone bars. In a new study,
neuroscientists scanned the brains of volunteers while they
watched videos of a hand reaching for a mug. In one clip, the
mug sat in a neat arrangement of teapot, mug, pitcher of milk
and plate of cookies; in another, it sat amid a knocked-over
pitcher, used napkin and cookie crumbs; in a third the mug sat
If the only thing mirror neurons do is fire when they see
someone perform a movement, the volunteers' brains should have
shown the same activity whether the hand was reaching for the
mug as if to drink, in the first scene, to clean up in the
messy scene or with no context. But that's not what happened.
As Marco Iacoboni of UCLA and colleagues report in the March
issue of PLoS Biology, mirror neurons were only a little
active when the hand grasped the lone mug. But they perked up
when the hand reached for the cup as if to drink from it (in
preparty mode) or to wash it (post party).
"This suggests that mirror neurons do not simply recognize
actions but are also involved in decoding people's
intentions," says Prof. Iacoboni. "People seem to have
specific neurons that code the 'why' of some action,
predicting the behavior of others."
And that makes social interactions possible. At the annual
meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of
Science last month, researchers said that because these
neurons fire both when we see someone move as when we move
ourselves, they make equivalent "what others do and feel and
what we do and feel." We do not just see an action; we also
experience what it feels like to someone else.
Mirror neurons "re-create the experience of others within
ourselves," as UCLA's Mark Thompson put it in his AAAS
remarks. They "allow us to put ourselves in the shoes of
another." That makes them the neural basis of empathy.
"To function well with other people, we need to understand
where they're coming from so as not to misread their
intentions," says Regina Pally, a psychotherapist in Los
Angeles and a clinical professor at UCLA. "Mirror neurons are
what let us understand others' emotions." In fact, mirror
neurons in people are connected to the brain's emotion region,
the limbic system: When your mirror neurons fire in a
reflection of someone else's, it triggers empathic emotions.
Mirror neurons also let us feel another person's pain. The
same cortical neurons that process the sense of touch also
fire when you see someone else touched. And a region that
registers disgust that you feel directly also fires when you
see expressions of disgust on others (hence the visceral
wallop of "Fear Factor").
Instead of merely seeing what other people do and feel, said
Christian Keysers of the University of Groningen, the
Netherlands, "we start to feel their actions and sensations in
our own cortex as if we would be doing these actions and
having those sensations."
Except when we don't. In children with autism, "there may be a
deficit in the mirror-neuron system," says Prof. Iacoboni,
which may explain why they are unable to infer the mental
state and intentions of others. Without mirror neurons to
serve as bridges between minds, everyone seems like a cipher.
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