Human brains “mirroring” computer actions

October 20, 2010 at 8:41 pm Leave a comment

I’ve been reading about “mirror neurons” lately, trying to understand why we like stories.  I understand why we like to tell stories — there are lots of evolutionary advantages to wanting to communicate, to get others to pay you attention.  But why do we like to consume stories?  What advantage is there to wanting to hear others’ stories?  This is relevant for my contextualized computing education notions — why does wrapping a story around CS1 lead to increased retention?  One possible answer is that we are wired to mimic others’ activities, through our mirror neurons, potentially leading to vicarious learning.

Which is why the findings linked below are interesting.  Turns out that our mirror neurons fire even when watching a computer do something.

Surprisingly, when players were observing their competitor make selections, the players’ brains were activated as if they were performing these actions themselves.  Such ‘mirror neuron’ activities occur when we observe the actions of other humans but here the players knew their opponent was just a computer and no animated graphics were used.  Previously, it has been suggested that the mirror neuron system supports a type of unconscious mind-reading that helps us, for example, judge others’ intentions.

Dr Howard-Jones added: “We were surprised to see the mirror neuron system activating in response to a computer.  If the human brain can respond as though a computer has a mind, that’s probably good news for those wishing to use the computer as a teacher.”

via Bristol University | News from the University | GSOE and Department of Computer Science.

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Matthias and Gordon win SIGCSE 2011 Honors Education Research is not equal to Teaching: A note to email correspondents

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