Neurons in our brain 'mirror' the space near others, just as if this was the space near ourselves, reveals a study from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. The study, published in the scientific journal Current Biology, sheds new light on a question that has long preoccupied psychologists and neuroscientists regarding the way in which the brain represents other people and the events that happens to those people.
"We usually experience others as clearly separated from us, occupying a very different portion of space," says Claudio Brozzoli, lead author of the study at the Department of Neuroscience. "However, what this study shows is that we perceive the space around other people in the same way as we perceive the space around our own body."
The new research revealed that visual events occurring near a person's own hand and those occurring near another's hand are represented by the same region of the frontal lobe (premotor cortex). In other words, the brain can estimate what happens near another person's hand because the neurons that are activated are the same as those that are active when something happens close to our own hand. It is possible that this shared representation of space could help individuals to interact more efficiently -- when shaking hands, for instance. It might also help us to understand intuitively when other people are at risk of getting hurt, for example when we see a friend about to be hit by a ball.