Mirror neurons were discovered in a study of macaque moneys (Rizzolatti et al. 2001). These neurons are activated by visual stimuli only when there is interaction between the action’s agent (human being or a monkey) and its object, such as grasping or holding. It was found that these neurons are simultaneously fired in brains of the macaque who is performing the action and the macaque who is watching this happen. Gallese and Rizollati et al. propose that mirror neurons may be a basic organizational feature of our brain, enabling inter-subjective experiences; however, at the present time, this is speculative.
Related to this, and addressing our capacity for empathy, is work by Anders et al. (2011) that investigates how the brains of people transmit affective information in facial communication. The level of neural activity within a distributed network of the perceiver’s brain can be successfully predicted from the neural activity in the same network in the sender’s brain, depending on the affect that is currently being communicated. Also, time plays a role in the flow of affective information with information in the perceiver’s brain being significantly delayed relative to information in the sender’s brain. This delay decreases over time, possibly reflecting some ‘tuning in’ of the perceiver with the sender. Ander’s et al. (Ibid) also suggest that observing a facial expression of affect activates part of a somato-motor network that is also activated when persons express their own affect (Carr et al. 2003; Leslie et al. 2004; Hennenlotter et al. 2005; van der Gaag et al. 2007). Bavelas et al. (1987) study shows that a sympathetic response to a grimace of pain is made only when eye contact is made, that is, it is a communicative act.