Mirror neurons in video gaming

1 minute read

For those interested in the sociological side of neuroscience, GameSpot has a quick review of mirror neurons and their relevance to video games.

Neuroscience and video games. What do they have to do with each other? Aside from whatever research went into crafting games like Psi-Ops and Psychonauts, it doesn't seem like the two subjects have much in common. Sure, neuroscience is the study of the brain, and despite what everyone tells you, you do use your brain when you're playing video games. But what are the chances that the latest neuroscientific research is going to be of any interest to the game industry? Well, if you've been following the (relatively) recent work on mirror neurons, then you would realize that neuroscience is about to have a huge impact--if not on video games, then on the discussions we have about them--for a long time to come.

The emphasis on the article is the possible long-term effects of violent video games on violent crime rates. To that end, it discusses the possible effects of mirror neurons in familiarizing people with experiences that they do not themselves actually do, as well as "super mirror" neurons that may regulate those perceptions.

We can tell if someone is watching a television by the way that person is facing it--even if we can't see or hear if the television is even on. It also means that we can experience the mental states associated with actions without ever having to perform those actions. In video games, in particular, it's like we're automatically empathizing with what is happening on the screen as if we were the video game characters ourselves. If you've ever had a particularly heart-palpitating race in Burnout, surely you can relate.

"We can tell if someone is watching a television..." certainly gives a hint about the evolutionary history of the mirror neurons, but they are strange beasts.