Have you ever started copying someone’s behaviour subconsciously? How often do you learn just by observing? Do you think moods are contagious?
As most of you may know by now, I’m quite passionate about psychology and learning about the mind. Today I’ll be talking about a very interesting phenomenon called Mirror Neurons. I’ll run through what they are, how they behave, why we have them and some neuroscience behind leadership.
What are mirror neurons?
These are neurons in the brain that create a shared experience by detecting and then mimicking other people’s emotions. This is fired when you act a behaviour out or when you simply observe and imagine the behaviour.
It’s called mirroring because the observation behaves as if you performed the action yourself. A very similar reaction occurs in your brain.
Have you ever cringed by just watching someone do something cringe-worthy?
How do they behave?
Remember that we’re just a bunch of neurons constantly firing. This is essentially what neuroplasticity is all about. It’s how our thoughts, experiences and behaviours change the shape of our brain on a constant basis.
When we are actively engaged in visualization or observing other people in an activity, our brains actually change in structure. This is why we’re often told to become friends with those who are smarter than us or in sports with those who are better than us.
Being surrounded by those people actually have an impact on the way we think. That’s also why they say the company you keep is so important. It physiologically affects you.
Why do we have mirror neurons?
Our good ol’ pal evolution. The concept of mirror neurons has enabled us to better determine people’s intentions when they carry out certain behaviours. It is also what enables us to empathize so well with others.
Mirror neurons contribute to our understanding of other people’s emotions and how they’re feeling, by helping us put ourselves in their position.
I’m sure you’ve experienced being surrounded by someone who is distressed and then started feeling a little uneasy yourself too. This is also why they say that smiling is contagious. It quite literally is.
The Neuroscience of Leadership
Another remarkable concept that I’ll briefly go over is how mirror neurons plays a role in leadership. People who are charismatic and confident exude a certain aura that makes us feel comfortable and heard.
Empathy is a key skill for effective leadership, because you’re able to show others that you understand what they’re going through. Mirror neurons are also vital in subconsciously mimicking people we’re socializing with. We often end up copying certain gestures, phrases, behaviours and facial expressions to connect with those around us.
By understanding how these subconscious attributes affect our interactions, we can all actively engage in becoming better leaders.
This topic is still deeply under-researched and there’s a lot of work to be done in thoroughly understanding how mirror neurons work. The concept is extremely fascinating to me, even if it’s just at surface level.
I hope I’ve managed to intrigue your curiosity about neuroscience and how incredible our brains truly are. Our empathetic nature is highly-dependent on our ability to detect the emotions in other people and then feel them for ourselves.
Keep in mind that observational learning is a powerful tool that we shouldn’t undermine. Finally, surround yourself with people who are better than you to make a powerful impact on your subconscious.
These insights will definitely amplify your ability to become a life-long learner and a courageous leader. Stay strong, vulnerable and always curious. You are truly blessed.