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Your social brain

Nerve cells notice mistakes and learn from others’ desires

By
6:52pm, December 13, 2012

2012 SCIENCE NEWS TOP 25: 6

Some nerve cells snicker at mistakes. Others compel a person to want someone else’s stuff. By studying these phenomena, scientists are learning more than just where schadenfreude and jealousy lie in the brain; they’re gaining an unprecedented view of how social influences can worm into a person’s head.

Such new results carry researchers beyond studying the brain in isolation to studying it as a social actor. Ultimately, this work could help forge a deeper understanding of how the brain learns by using the behavior of others as a guide.

Earlier this year, Japanese researchers uncovered a small group of nerve cells that fire when a macaque witnesses another monkey making a mistake. These cells, located in the front of the brain, remained silent when a monkey made an error itself, but howled when the monkey saw a partner screw up (

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