Our brains have something called mirror neurons, which means that they fire when they observe someone else performing an action.
They “mirror” the behaviour of the other in your own mind.
Mirror neurons help us understand empathy.
You don’t need to experience the pain yourself – when you can “experience” it by watching someone else!
In other-words, it is possible to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. I’m obviously oversimplifying the process right now (not a neuroscientist). So, I’ll let an expert explain:
V.S. Ramachandran: There are neurons which fire when I reach out and grab a peanut, another set of neurons which fire when I reach out and pull a lever, other neurons when I’m pushing something, other neurons when I’m hitting something. These are regular motor command neurons, orchestrating a sequence of muscle twitches that allow me to reach out and grab something or do some other action. A subset of these neurons also fire when I simply watch another person—watch you reach out and do exactly the same action. So, these neurons are performing a virtual reality simulation of your mind, your brain. (Do Mirror Neurons Give Us Empathy? – Neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran).
Mirror neurons fire and are activated when we watch someone else engage in a behaviour.
Even though we are watching, our body can be affected.
Think of yawning. Just watching someone yawn can give you the urge to do the same. I remember when I was younger, there were some kids that would forcefully try to make other people yawn.
And if you didn’t fall for it (and didn’t yawn) they would yell, “SOCIOPATH!”
By not yawning (when someone else did) means that your mirror neurons were not firing, which means that you were lacking the ability to emphasize with others…. which meant you were a sociopath.
I mean, I probably wouldn’t suggest yelling that out at co-workers, or people on the bust. But what these 8th graders were saying….kind of…aligned with the science.
Mirror neurons help us understand others.
This doesn’t just apply when we watch other people, it happens when we imagine things in our mind.
If you picture yourself performing an action in your sport – shooting a free throw, a penalty shot, or conducting your performance routine, there are neurons firing in your brain, which means a neural pathway is being created or constructed.
Pascual-Leone conducted research in people learning the piano.
“What scientists found was that after a week of practice, the stretch of the motor cortex devoted to those finger movements took over the surrounding areas like dandelions on a suburban lawn… He had another group of volunteers merely think about practicing the piano exercise. They played the simple piece in their heads, imagining how they would move their fingers to generate the notes on the score.
Result: the region of the motor cortex that controls the piano playing fingers expanded in the brains of the volunteers who merely imagined playing the piece, just as it did in the brains of those who actually played it” (Begley).
Using your imagination to go through various movements recruits the same parts of the brain as actually carrying out the movement.
But not only that, imagining events can also have a “real” stimulus in your muscles and in your body.
Have you ever woken up from a nightmare sweating, heart pounding and scared?
These imagined events can have an impact on us physiologically.
What you see, think, imagine, watch – these all can have an impact on you!
Interested in learning more?
See you on your mat!