Last week I caught the tail end of a programme screened on BBC Prime about the function of the brain. This is a subject which has interested me for the past few years, so I made sure to arrange my schedule such that I could watch the programme last night. Three main points were introduced during the episode:
- Babies upto the age of six months are able to recognise and differentiate between the faces of primates (lemurs were the animal used) as opposed to babies over the age of nine months
- First impressions are very important
- Humans learn to read people's expressions and so try and understand what other people are thinking. In so doing, we mirror their body language
The moral of the first point is "use it or lose it". According to the brain, a baby has 1.5 times the amount of synapse connections that an adult does, because it has to learn so much. One of the things which it doesn't need to use is the ability to differentiate between primates, and so this ability withers over time.
The second two points are very important and are known collectively as "mirroring". This information was very familiar as I had been reading about it over the past two months in a book called "Social intelligence". The book goes into far greater depth than the programme did, of course, but as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
I found this book very interesting for a few reasons. Whilst reading a book by Martin Seligman, I became aware of the fact that my social skills aren't particularly well developed and that this is an area in which I could improve. I looked for something in this subject on the Internet and found "SI"; as it happened, the same evening I was in a book shop and found the exact same book on the shelves (maybe slightly more expensive than via Amazon, although once the shipping is figured in, maybe not) so I bought it. Reading it made me aware how much difficulty I have at times in reading people's expressions, and how my body language is frequently different from my companions (in other words, I don't mirror very well).
When taken to a more extreme level, such problems are one of the features of Asperger's syndrome, and if one continues on the same continuum, one eventually gets to autism. Whilst there is no possibility that anyone could ever consider that I have Asperger's, I do recognise the inability. Knowing about this allows me to do something about it.
The other reason why the book was interesting was that intellectual types like myself need these things spelt out, whereas other, more visceral, people know these things automatically. I also need the intellectual explanation, about mirror neurons and spindle cells, rather than the simplistic explanation as offered by the television programme.
As the programme wasn't subtitled into Hebrew, my wife had difficulty in following it, but I was able to explain the content to her. I was also glad that I was able to talk to her about such subjects as most people aren't particularly interested in an off the cuff chat about mirror neurons et al (Asperger's flag flying).