James Munro

Research project: Investigating the properties of mirror neurons
Supervisors: Dr Joe Levy; Dr John Silas
I did my undergraduate degree in psychology at the University Of Abertay Dundee Scotland, in 2011. I spent a brief period as a research assistant, working at both Abertay and Edinburgh zoo.

I became a PhD student at Roehampton in January, supervised by Dr Jon Silas and Dr Joe Levy. Mirror neurons are components of the brain which are unique in that they are active during both performance and observation of actions. In essence, they allow us to experience what other people are experiencing by converting what we see into the same ‘code’ we use to program our own actions. I find the implications of such a system absolutely enthralling, but the scientific community has only scratched the surface of this area. During my research I will attempt to explore certain aspects of the human mirror neuron system using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a technique which allows us to visualise patterns of brain activity. I will examine the extent to which mirror neurons react to social (e.g. a high-five) compared to non-social (making the same movement to hit a button) stimuli. I also intend to test whether they can be consciously controlled to direct ‘mirroring’ towards pleasant things, and away from aversive things. My hope is that my thesis will contribute to the understanding of how humans learn skills from each other, and predict the goals of observed actions. I am also keen on training with the fMRI technique in order to resolve various methodological issues and get to grips with the technology.
I help to teach research methods to first years, and occasionally act as a class helper in other modules.