Faculty Advisor

Andresen, David

Area of Study

Science and Mathematics

Publication Date

Summer 2012


Mirror neurons appear to play an important role in the experience of empathy, and may be critical for understanding the social signals of others in an interactive context between distinctly identified groups. Research has shown that mirror neuron activation is greater when observing in-group members (others that one most identifies with based on a certain factor or number of factors) as opposed to out-group members, which may implicate the mirror neuron system (MNS) in the neural aspect of social bias. However, no research had been conducted on the effect on the MNS of practice in interpreting and internalizing social signals of others through consistent exposure. We used electroencephalography to assess mirror neuron activity (via Mu-wave suppression) towards individuals of white and black ethnicity before and after a period of MNS exposure towards the participants’ ethnic out-group (black). We found that on average participants had significantly more Mu-wave suppression towards white individuals than black before exposure, and no significant difference in Mu-wave suppression between ethnicities after exposure. This indicates that the MNS is plastic and increasingly responsive towards individuals of proximate groups with which there is consistent social interaction, to the point where there may be little difference in ability to identify with in-group versus out-group members. This attribute of the MNS may be involved in the formation of social identity and intergroup biases, as well as the potential to either dissociate or empathize with others based on distinctive factors.


University of Puget Sound