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Apr 26, 2018

Mirror Neurons: Why we feel each other's emotions.

Written by Dr. Caroline Leaf

We have all heard the verse love your neighbor as you love yourself. But is it possible to love someone like we love ourselves? Is it possible to truly care about what someone else is going through? How do we put ourselves in another person’s “shoes”?

When we study the nature of the mind and how it impacts the brain, we realize that humanity, and indeed the world, is entangled. We are designed to sympathise with one another, to reach out in love and to care about our neighbor. We all have mirror neurons, which enable us to experience what other people are going through—our brains literally act as a “mirror”.

When we empathize with other people, many different regions of the brain collaborate alongside the tiny, powerful mirror neurons, allowing us to truly put ourselves in another person’s “shoes”; we have been hardwired to experience powerful compassion for others. We are designed for relationships, so it would make sense to have brain wiring to support healthy relationships.  Mirror neurons also explain our love of stories. These neurons help make stories real for us, allowing us to learn from each other. 

But how to do mirror neurons work? We have “mirror neurons” across the brain that fire up as we watch someone else laugh or cry or drink a cup of coffee. Giacomo Rizzolatti and his team were the first to discover these mirror neurons in 1995. Through these neurons we literally fire up activityin the brain without actually using our five senses through the normal sensory-cognitive cycle.These cells appear to be activated both when we do something, and when simply watching another person do the same thing.One of the most powerful roles suggested for the mirror neuron system in humans is that of understanding not just other people’s physical actions or speech, but their minds and their intentions as well.

So…as you go about your day, smile at the people you pass, and just watch the effect on those around you. It is almost impossible not to respond to a real smile: our mirror neurons are designed to respond to a with a burst of feel good chemicals, lifting our spirits and intellect, and making us smile in return.

When it comes to loving our neighbor, we really do have everything we need at our biological fingertips!

For more information on mirror neurons, see my book Switch on Your Brain, and check out my Mental Self-Care Tip on mirror neurons on YouTube! 

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