Mirror neurons and Autism
It has been lately shown that mirror neurons deficiency is related to autism. This is an interesting development.
Mirror neurons are traditionally accepted as responsible for mirroring actions, i.e.: If you see a person eat with a spoon, you will immediately know how to eat with a spoon yourself (monkey see monkey do). It does make sense that there is also a relation to feeling mirroring, perhaps via the motor stream – see a sad face, make a sad face yourself, feel sad, understand that the other person is sad. At some point the action step can perhaps no longer be required – action perceiving and feeling can be wired with no need for actual action, recall Pavlov’s dog.
If an autistic person doesn’t automatically mirror actions, they won’t feel as well. This coincides well with autistic people usually avoiding complicated motor activities and generally behaving “weird” (recall “Rain Man”). But autistic people are not devoid of feeling, they just lack empathy.
A strengthening of this notion I actually find in a friend of mine. She is an eclectic dancer from a very young age, meaning she has highly developed mirror neurons (very good at understanding and copying movement). Interestingly enough, she has also claimed to be very empathic, even too much. She oftentimes feels exactly (to her opinion) what the person in front of her feels, sometimes it even causes her to work against her own interests, in order not to make others around her feel bad. At other times it helps her develop rapport and communicate with people in their own language.
I believe this connection should be studied, although I can’t really think of a good way to measure “empathicness”.