Knowing me is knowing you – mirror neurons, social cognition and schizophrenia
What you see is sometimes what you feel
7:30 PM, Thursday 29 August 2013 | Urban Solace
Schizophrenia is a severe psychiatric disorder that often begins during adolescence – developmentally the most crucial period for an individual – and can potentially last life-long. This makes it one of the most disabling disorders known to mankind. Though schizophrenia has probably been with us for thousands of years, it was described only at the start of the 19th century. Commonly, symptoms are categorized as positive (delusions and hallucinations) and negative (social withdrawal). We now know that a third dimension of cognitive (both general and social cognitive) symptoms also exists.
Social cognition involves applying our mental abilities in social situations. Deficits in social cognition are linked to positive symptoms, negative symptoms and functional disability in patients with schizophrenia. Various theorists have proposed that ‘mirror neurons’ help us empathize and understand our social milieu. These are a specialized group of nerve cells that fire when we perform an action, as well as when we see someone else perform the same action. These neurons may provide a template to understand others based on how we understand ourselves. In this talk, I will take you through concepts of social cognition and mirror neurons, how dysfunctional mirror neurons may contribute to social cognitive deficits, their relevance to schizophrenia, and emerging evidence on how mirror neuron activity can be modulated using brain stimulation techniques.
Dr. Urvakhsh Mehta did his MD in Psychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore. He is an active clinician and a researcher with keen interest in the area of social cognition in schizophrenia.
Urvakhsh has been working in the area of social cognition for more than 6 years. He was instrumental in developing a new test battery to assess social cognition in the Indian socio-cultural context (Social Cognition Rating Tools in Indian Setting-SOCRATIS), which is now in use across the country. He studied the novel application of transcranial magnetic stimulation in examining and modulating the human mirror neuron system. His findings have linked social cognition deficits (especially those in theory of mind) to mirror neuron dysfunction in schizophrenia patients. His current work involves developing optimal brain stimulation techniques to modulate mirror neurons, which could potentially translate into better treatment for patients.
He has won several national and international awards for his research, from the Indian Psychiatric Society, Indian Council of Medical Research and the International Brain Research Organization.