Advertisement

The Review of Austrian Economics

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 299–313 | Cite as

Mirror neuron research and Adam Smith’s concept of sympathy: Three points of correspondence

  • L. Lynne KieslingEmail author
Article

Abstract

In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith asserts that humans have an innate interest in the fortunes of other people and desire for sympathy with others. In Smith’s theory, sympathy is an imperfectly reflected combination of emotion and judgment when one observes someone (the agent) in a particular situation, and imagines being that person in that situation. That imagination produces a degree of interconnectedness among individuals. Recent neuroscience research on mirror neurons provides evidence consistent with Smith’s assertion, suggesting that humans have an innate capability to understand the mental states of others at a neural level. A mirror neuron fires both when an agent acts and when an agent observes that action being performed by another; the name derives from the “mirroring” of the action in the brain of the observer. This neural network and the capabilities arising from it have three points of correspondence with important aspects of the Smithian sympathetic process: an agent’s situation as a stimulus or connection between two similar but separate agents, an external perspective on the actions of others, and an innate imaginative capacity that enables an observer to imagine herself as the agent, in the agent’s situation. Both this sympathetic process and the mirror neuron system predispose individuals toward coordination of the expression of their emotions and of their actions. In Smith’s model this decentralized coordination leads to the emergence of social order, bolstered and reinforced by the emergence and evolution of informal and formal institutions grounded in the sympathetic process. Social order grounded in this sympathetic process relies on a sense of interconnectedness and on shared meanings of actions, and the mirror neuron system predisposes humans toward such interconnection.

Keywords

Adam Smith Sympathy Neuroscience Coordination Cooperation 

JEL Classification Codes

B100 (History of Economic Thought: General) B310 (History of Economic Thought: Individuals) D030 (Behavioral Economics: Underlying Principles) D870 (Neuroeconomics) 

References

  1. Broadie, A. (2006). Sympathy and the impartial spectator. In K. Haakonssen (Ed.), The Cambridge companion to Adam Smith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Carr, L., Iacoboni, M., Dubeau, M. C., Mazziotta, J. C., & Lenzi, G. L. (2003). Neural mechanisms of empathy in humans: a relay from neural systems for imitation to limbic areas. Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, 100, 5497–502.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Decety, J., & Jackson, P. (2006). A social-neuroscience perspective on empathy. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(2), 54–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Decety, J., Grezes, J., Costes, N., Perani, D., Jeannerod, M., Procyk, E., Grassi, F., & Fazio, F. (1997). TITLE Brain, 120, 1763–1777.Google Scholar
  5. Fadiga, L., Fogassi, L., Pavesi, G., & Rizzolatti, G. (1995). Motor facilitation during action observation: a magnetic stimulation study. Journal of Neurophysiology, 73, 2608–2611.Google Scholar
  6. Ferrari, P. F., Gallese, V., Rizzolatti, G., & Fogassi, L. (2003). Mirror neurons responding to the observation of ingestive and communicative mouth actions in the monkey ventral premotor cortex. European Journal of Neuroscience, 17, 1703–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Forman-Barzilai, F. (2010). Adam Smith and the circles of sympathy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Frith, C. D., & Frith, U. (1999). Interacting minds: a biological basis. Science, 286, 1692–1695.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gallese, V. (2003). The roots of empathy: The shared manifold hypothesis and the neural basis of intersubjectivity. Psychopathology, 36(4), 171–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gallese, V. (2008). Mirror neurons and the social nature of language: The neural exploitation hypothesis. Social Neuroscience, 3–4, 317–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gallese, V., & Goldman, A. (1998). Mirror neurons and the simulation theory of mind reading. Trends in Cognitive Science, 2(12), 493–501.Google Scholar
  12. Gallese, V., Fadiga, L., Fogassi, L., & Rizzolatti, G. (1996). Action recognition in the premotor cortex. Brain, 119, 593–609.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Griswold, C. (1999). Adam Smith and the virtues of enlightenment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Haakonsen, H. (1991). The science of a legislator. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Hickok, G. (2009). Eight problems for the mirror neuron theory of action understanding in monkeys and humans. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21(7), 1229–1243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hickok, G., & Hauser, M. (2010). (Mis)understanding mirror neurons. Current Biology, 20(14), R593–R594.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hume, D. (1751[1983]) An enquiry concerning the principles of morals. J. B. Schneewind, ed. Indianapolis: Hackett.Google Scholar
  18. Hurley, S. (2008). The shared circuits (SCM): How control, mirroring, and simulation can enable imitation, deliberation, and mindreading. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 31, 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Iacoboni, M. (2008). Mirroring people: The science of empathy and how we connect with others. New York: Picador.Google Scholar
  20. Iacoboni, M. (2009). Imitation, empathy, and mirror neurons. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 653–670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Iacoboni, M., Woods, R. P., Brass, M., Bekkering, H., Mazziotta, J. C., & Rizzolatti, G. (1999). Cortical mechanisms of human imitation. Science, 286, 2526–2528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Iacoboni, M., Molnar-Szakacs, I., Gallese, V., Buccino, G., Mazziotta, J. C., et al. (2005). Grasping the intentions of others with one’s own mirror neuron system. PLoS Biology, 3(3), e79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kaag, J. (2009a). Getting under my skin: William James on the emotions, sociality, and transcendence. Zygon, 44(2), 433–450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kaag, J. (2009b). The neurological dynamics of the imagination. Phenomenology and Cognitive Science, 8, 183–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Keysers, C., Kohler, E., Umiltà, M. A., Nanetti, L., Fogassi, L., et al. (2003). Audiovisual mirror neurons and action recognition. Experimental Brain Research, 153, 628–636.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Klein, D., & Clark, M. (2011). The music of social intercourse: Synchrony in Adam Smith. Independent Review, 15(3), 413–420.Google Scholar
  27. Kohler, E., Keysers, C., Umiltà, M. A., Fogassi, L., Gallese, V., et al. (2002). Hearing sounds, understanding actions: Action representation in mirror neurons. Science, 297, 846–848.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Montes, L. (2004). Adam Smith in context. London: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  29. Mukamel, R., Ekstrom, A., Kaplan, J., Iacoboni, M., & Fried, I. (2010). Single-neuron responses in humans during executions and observations of actions. Current Biology, 20, 750–756.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Newman-Norlund, R., van Schie, H., van Zuijlen, A., & Bekkering, H. (2007). The mirror system is more active during complementary compared with imitative action. Nature Neuroscience, 10(7), 817–818.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Otteson, J. (2002). Adam Smith’s marketplace of life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Paganelli, M. (2010) “The Same Face of the Two Smiths: Adam Smith and Vernon Smith.” Working paper.Google Scholar
  33. Rizzolatti, G., & Craighero, L. (2004). The mirror-neuron system. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 27, 169–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Rizzolatti, G., & Sinigaglia, C. (2010). The functional role of the parieto-frontal mirror circuit: interpretations and misinterpretations. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 11, 264–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rizzolatti, G., Fadiga, L., Gallese, V., & Fogassi, L. (1996). Premotor cortex and the recognition of motor actions. Brain Research. Cognitive Brain Research, 3, 131–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rizzolatti, G., Fogassi, L., & Gallese, V. (2001). Neurophysiological mechanisms underlying the understanding and imitation of action. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2, 661–670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Rizzolatti, G., Fogassi, L., & Gallese, V. (2006). Mirrors in the mind. Scientific American, 295(5), 54–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rockwell, T. (2008). Dynamic empathy: A new formulation for the simulation theory of mind reading. Cognitive Systems Research, 9(1–2), 52–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Smith, A. (1759[1982]) The Theory of Moral Sentiments. D. Raphael and A. Macfie, eds. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.Google Scholar
  40. Umiltà, M. A., Kohler, E., Gallese, V., Fogassi, L., Fadiga, L., et al. (2001). I know what you are doing. A neurophysiological study. Neuron, 31, 155–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

Personalised recommendations