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Theses Bachelor's

Mirror Neurons and "Mirroring": The Missing Scientific Link

Vira, Mansi

For over five decades, the benefits of dance/movement therapy (DMT) have not achieved greater credibility than mere observation. Today, neuroscientists have begun to quantify the observed benefits. Using the lens of neuroscience, my thesis explains from a scientific perspective the how and why behind the success of DMT. Specifically, neuroscientists are interested in the concept of empathy or “mirroring” that is fundamental to DMT. This is because “mirroring” is thought to parallel the functioning of specialized neurons in the human brain, called mirror neurons. These neurons are activated when performing an action and when observing someone else performing that same action: watching somebody else doing an action is just like doing the action yourself. As the term mirror neuron suggests, the brain appears to mirror the movement it sees. The mirror neuron system, when translated into DMT, explains how dance therapists may be playing the role of mirror neurons in their ability to connect with the patients. By mirroring their patients’ movements, which reflect underlying pains and emotions, therapists establish a dialogue of empathy between them, and thereby inspire healing and recovery. By scientifically exploring how DMT works, this research provides reasons for why it might be a superior alternative to traditional therapies like talk and psychotherapy. The study of DMT and how it facilitates activation of the mirror neuron system through empathetic mirroring is currently being used as potential treatment for diseases such as Autism and Parkinson’s, as both are characterized by breaks in the mirror neuron system. Research in this topic area serves as a bridge to draw people not only from dance and movement backgrounds, but also from scientific and medical backgrounds.

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More Information

Academic Units
Dance (Barnard College)
Thesis Advisors
Garafola, Lynn
Degree
B.A., Barnard College
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