School of Sport SciencesWaseda University

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Studying the brain to understand how humans encode effort level of others

Imagine you see an elderly woman carrying very heavy grocery bags. Her frail arms are putting up a good fight against gravity, but then comes a flight of stairs. Weak and tired, she looks hopeless.

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What would your natural response be?

Perhaps, some of us would immediately offer her a lending hand. However, what if this was a buff, young man instead? Would you be inclined to help him, even if you saw him running up the stairs at full speed? Most likely not, but what is the science behind this difference in feelings?

The mirror neuron system (i.e. action observation network (AON)) and the mentalizing system in the human nervous system have been associated with understanding and evaluating effort levels of others, yet how this was exactly done remained unknown. On July 26, Professor Kazuyuki Kanosue from the Faculty of Sport Sciences at Waseda University, Research Associate Junior Researcher Nobuaki Mizuguchi (Keio University) and Hiroki Nakata (Nara Women’s University) published a research report on this matter in “Scientific Reports,” an online scientific magazine by Nature Publishing Group. They investigated brain areas that respond to inference of effort levels and recorded brain activity during an action requiring effort with a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Their research suggests that the right temporoparietal junction in the mentalizing system, not AON, determines effort levels.

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This finding will contribute to perceiving intentions and feelings of others for improved communication and better social interaction.

The full report is available on the link below:

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