Naga Chokkanathan

Why Not? — Mirror Mirror On The Brain

Posted on: June 25, 2010

Ever observed a husband and wife pair (or colleagues / brothers / sisters) who talk the same way? Even their body language seem to match each other perfectly.

We can understand the brothers / sisters part, there may be some genes in action. But what about Colleagues? Why do they seem to mimic each other so much?

The answer, seems to be “Mirror Neurons”. These are part of our brain, which learn from others, and make us imitate them. They are the prime reason we yawn when somebody else in the same room does.

Just a few minutes back, when you read the word ‘yawn’ in this post, you felt like yawning, didn’t you? Be honest 😉

It’s not your mistake, Mirror neurons are in action again, they can control us even when we just read about someone doing something. That’s why when you are reading a thriller, you feel as if a serial murderer is behind your back.

Research on Mirror neurons is not complete yet, Scientists are still experimenting, learning new stuff, making discoveries. But the basic fact about these, is clear: Because of these special grey cells, we tend to follow what others are doing, unintentionally.

When I read this, I had a scary thought – a mirror wouldn’t know what is in front of it and just reflect it as it is, If our brain acts the same way, won’t we be (unintentionally of course) copying both good and bad things from others?

For example, if I copy someone else’s accent, or body language, or the way they hold a pen etc., there is no harm. What if I start copying their bad attitudes? Worst, I will start spreading those attitudes to others around me and it may become a hopeless cycle.

Worst, these mirror neurons could be creativity-killers. Let us say I am a writer, and I read a fantastic novel, Unknowingly I may start following a similar pattern / structure for my next story (I am not talking about intentional copying here 😉

This can happen for non-artists also. A programmer may have the mirror images of all code structures / designs he / she saw over all these years, and they could make him / her go in a circle, repeat the same thing again and again, trying to solve new problems with old solutions. In that case, everyone thinks the same way and getting out-of-the-box solutions could become very difficult.

Fortunately, the same Mirror neurons seem to provide us a solution to this problem. When you watch creative people / new ideas on a regular basis (preferably around you, in your own workplace) then we start mirroring the same creative-thought-process. When this happens all over a company, that’s where creativity becomes part of the culture and not something we need to force / struggle for.



N. Chokkan …

25 06 2010


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