Giacomo Rizzolatti: "Spending a lot of time online makes us less empathetic"

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At 86 years old, Giacomo Rizzolatti He keeps his enthusiasm for learning intact. The Italian scientist demonstrates this several times during the inauguration of the Ever3 company laboratory that from now on will bear his name in the Madrid Science Park, on the campus of the Autonomous University. He wants to know the details of the facilities that will be used for biomedical research projects related to cancer, mental disorders and cystic fibrosis, so he does not stop asking and several times asks that his wheelchair be brought closer to a point, to see up close the details of the center.

Of everything that is around them, without a doubt what attracts their attention the least is the commemorative plaque that they have just discovered and that recognizes their key role in the field of neuroscience. In the mid-90s, at the University of Parma (Italy), Rizzolatti made a surprising discovery that he was not looking for, in his studies on macaques. In one of the experiments, which analyzed the motor area of ​​the apes, the researcher and his team identified a group of neurons with a very special peculiarity: not only activated when the animals carried out a specific action, but also when they saw other individuals repeat the gesture.

He animal brainthe scientists verified through different studies, “reflected” inside the movement they were contemplating, I reproduced it as if it were a mirrorso the researcher decided to name those neurons as mirror neuronsa network that has been proven key to understanding phenomena such as imitation or empathy.

At first, scientists thought that it was only a copying system, related to simple motor actions, but the research revealed that the mechanism went much further and also made it possible to make the emotions and actions of others one’s own. What was it a gear that gives us the possibility of putting ourselves in the shoes of others, in their shoes.

For this discovery, the Italian scientist born in kyiv (Ukraine) has received awards such as the Prince of Asturias for Technical Scientific Research or the Brain Prize, one of the most prestigious in neuroscience. Rizzolatti made time in his busy schedule in Madrid to take stock of his research and his achievements.

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