Mario Iacoboni, an M.D. neurological researcher at UCLA, writes a wonderful, page-turning scientific argument. Experiments he describes make very good sense and the logic of what they prove is satisfyingly compelling. He’s a pioneer researcher on mirror neurons and lays out clearly the emerging research that specific brain structures in our brain (and the brains of some other primates, whales and dolphins, and elephants) allow us to simply and directly read the affective state of our fellows (and some other mammals). Iacoboni and Frans de Waal are lead researchers in the emerging science of empathy/compassion. Both are realistic about how mirroring also contributes to competition and sometimes violence, but both see in our ability to take the role of the other, to feel the other’s experience, an inborn (I’d say God-given, but that’s not their argument) basis for the kind of communication that makes community possible.
Mirroring People, the Science of Empathy and How We Connect With Others, by Mario Iacoboni, Picador, 2009