The Thin Layer of Skin between Us


Have you ever wondered why and how we feel empathy toward each other? How about why and how those of us that feel little or no empathy are the way they are? It seems it may have something to do with our skin and a group of brain cells called mirror neurons.[1] It should come as no surprise that our skin and our brain are in a conversation with each other. This bidirectional communication is how we know to pull our hand away from a hot surface, or why it feels so good to caress the silky smooth fur of a beloved pet. As it turns out, empathy travels these same biological highways. Something profoundly interesting is what happens when this communication channel is interrupted.

Mirror neurons are located primarily in the motor areas of the brain.[2] They are thought to help us to understand the actions of other people, and to learn new skills by imitation. This would make complete sense if it was the end of the story, but apparently it is not. While we typically use these brain cells to observe but not actually feel or act out the sensations of other beings, when our own sensory equipment is muted by anesthesia, we actually begin to feel the sensations of other beings we observe.[3] What does this mean? It could mean that the only thing separating us from recognizing that we are all part of the same body is a thin layer of skin.


[1] See “The Mirror-Neuron System” By Giacomo Rizzolatti and Laila Craighero

[2] In humans mirror neurons have been located in the premotor cortex, the supplementary motor area, the primary somatosensory cortex and the inferior parietal cortex.

[3] See “Immediate Interpersonal and Intermanual Referral of Sensations Following Anesthetic Block of One Arm” by Laura K. Case, MA; Reid A. Abrams, MD; Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, MD, PhD. Website http://cbc.ucsd.edu/pdf/CaseBrachial.pdf

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2 responses to “The Thin Layer of Skin between Us

  1. good information,thanks..

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