Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mirror Neurons and the Science of Beta

I'm not a scientist. In no way do I have the patience to deal with control tests, double-blind studies, bunsen burners, or anything resembling the scientific method. I don't have the discipline to keep an open mind to all possibilities, only letting the real world evidence guide my hypotheses. And I definitely don't want to work with (real) monkeys.

Monkeys have fleas
I am, however, an armchair scientist. I love to read about studies in which other people have invested absurd amounts of time. Reading their hard won conclusions (or better, a synopsis written by a non-scientist) from the comfort of my breakfast table, I can easily think to myself: "yeah, that makes sense to me".

Another thing I'm good at: relating everything back to climbing.
Here's a link to a NYT article about a study done on monkeys in Italy.

In the study, the researchers looked at the brain activity of monkeys when the monkeys performed simple actions, such as reaching for a banana. When the monkeys performed the action, a certain set of neurons in their pre-frontal cortex (which controls motor activity) would light up. In an unexpected twist, the researchers found that the same set of neurons also lit up when the monkeys watched someone else, even a human, perform the same action.

They named these neurons "Mirror Neurons", and have spent many more years researching them in both monkeys and humans. The first thing that came to my mind, though, was the image of a climber miming the beta for a route.

Simply watching someone else act out the crux moves of some difficult route actually activates the parts of the brain that you will use in preform the moves yourself! Wow, maybe I don't even need to climb anymore, I can just sit at the base, watch climbers with real talent, and vicariously send. I might even get vicariously pumped! This also explains why I reach for my chalk bag while sitting on the couch watch climbing movies...

I can almost feel the holds...
Climber: Brad Gobright Photo: Eric Draper

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