Updated: Oct 25, 2020
In today's world, where artificial intelligence is rapidly replacing human intelligence, we ask ourselves to which areas we need to direct our energy. While we may not win IBM's Watson or Google's Sycamore for amassing specialized knowledge, it won't be easy for machine learning or quantum computing to figure out how to empathize with people. More often than not, we just want our friends to quietly listen to us even when they have no solutions to our problems. What if empathy plays a much bigger role than amateur counseling?
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When a speaker is delivering a motivating speech, we feel uplifted spirits of the entire audience. When a group leader focuses on what is wrong with each member's performance, a pessimistic point of view often spreads in the entire group like a wildfire, fulfilling its self-prophecy. Why would one person's emotions or viewpoints have such a wide impact?
Seeing others' actions have a similar impact on you. When you watch your favorite sports game in critical moments that could determine who wins the game, you may find yourself mimicking the key player's actions like hitting a baseball or throwing a dunk shot.
In "I am your mirror: mirror neurons and empathy", Davide Donelli and Matteo Rizzato tell us that neuroscientists are just beginning to understand why. In a ground-breaking monkey study, Giuseppe Di Pellegrino and his colleagues noticed that the same neurons fire when monkeys pick up their food, and when they WATCH a person performing the same action. These neurons were named mirror neurons.
Since this discovery, researchers have learned that humans also have mirror neurons. We have visual, auditory, and emotional mirror neuronal networks. When we watch movies, our mirror neurons predispose ourselves to relive what we see. That is why watching movies is such an engaging experience because we empathize with the characters that appear in the scenes.
Because we copy others' emotions first to "read" them as a strategy to understand the world around us, we can make the best use of this mechanism built into our brain to better communicate with people. When you carry emotions that match your intentions and values, people align themselves with your intentions. Imagine a class full of highly distracted 10-year olds. What would you do to bring their attention to you? If you raise your voice and start to yell, you will find the class even noisier than before. But, if you calm down yourself first and speak softly, you will quiet down the class.
On the other hand, when we are forced to carry out certain tasks reluctantly, people find our action disingenuous, thus limiting its communicative effectiveness. For example, if you have to lie about a crappy item that you hate, you will find it much more difficult to sell it to someone than those that you think are the best products out there.
Now we have clues as to why one person's emotions or viewpoints are far-reaching and even fulfill self-prophecy. Our emotions are amplified by others' mirror neurons just like mirrors reflecting what is in front of them, thus increasing the energy of these emotions carrying the same frequency, as quantum physics would predict. Just like a boomerang returning to its thrower, the mirror neurons of the originator are likely to pick up that amplified emotions from their surrounding mirror neuronal network. What goes around, indeed comes around!
That is empowering for us. The existence of the mirror neuronal network suggests that we are holding the key to creating our universe. How we perceive ourselves is transmitted to others through their mirror neurons. When we think of ourselves as confident enablers, others will treat us such. When we doubt ourselves, nobody will believe in us. We shape our universe.
Because we tend to copy emotions that we encounter, each of us has a social responsibility to shape our collective emotions and to strengthen morale in our society. That is why keeping positive spirits and humor are so important for our well-being. If you consciously smile often, you will not only make other people around you feel better, but it will also lift your mood right away (think of a mirror again). Perhaps that is why caring doctors heal their patients better. Practice this simple trick every day and see how much your life changes for the better!