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Friday, September 12, 2014

Grooming, Implements and Mirror Neurons

When I look at Bow, I can read his expressions. It is not hard to tell what he is feeling, as his facial expressions often mirror my own.

Looking at this picture of Bow eating an apple, can you tell what he is feeling? Let your face resolve itself into a similar expression. How do you feel? We have mirror neurons that allow us to put ourselves into somebody else's shoes, to let us imagine what it would be like to be doing what they are doing.

Can you almost taste that big, juicy, red delicious apple as Bow bites into it? That isn't just your imagination. Those are your mirror neurons firing.

Bow has mirror neurons, too. When he sees me doing something, he sometimes gets it into his head that he should do that, too. I have long hair, but Bow's is short. Sometimes, when I have a messy task to take care of, I put my hair up into a bun. Bow watches, fascinated as I do that. Sometimes, he gathers as much of his hair as he can, and he tries in vain to put his hair up in a bun, too. Only he can't, because it's too short.

Yesterday, I was brushing my hair, and I thought Bow might like to help me brush my hair, too. He often grooms me, but he does that with his bare hands. I thought that if I handed him the brush, he might want to help me brush my hair.

But Bow was fascinated by the iPhone's small screen filming this, instead.  I had to tap him lightly to get his attention before I handed him the brush and asked whether he would like to brush my hair. Bow did not want to help me brush my hair. He took the brush, started to brush his own hair, and then reached for the iPhone, because he wanted to see himself doing it on the screen.

"Would you like to do what I'm doing?" can have two different meanings. It can mean, if I am brushing my hair, "would you like to brush my hair, too?" Or it can mean, instead,  "would you like to brush your hair?" People with healthy mirror neurons often take it the second way.


  1. Aya, the older I get the more I learn about language and try to be more clear & exact when I say something. It's a work in progress. But you have a perfect example here of why it's so important (if we want something - for example, Bow to brush YOUR hair).
    Anyway, he looks very relaxed in the first picture and looks like he maybe observing your or listening to you say something and contemplating it. I like the idea of mirror neurons - never heard of that, but that is probably why our dogs end up acting so much like us too!

    1. Hi, Kathy, I am working on speaking more precisely, too, but the thing that really trips me up sometimes is incorporating the other person's point of view into the way I frame my communication.

      At the beginning of the video, Bow was calmly watching me brush my hair, not by looking at me, but by watching the action take place in the small image on the screen.