Monkey See Monkey Do

imgresI spoke a little in our meeting Monday about some things I found interesting about the social brain, and would like to expand a little on the idea of mirror neurons. So the idea is that in the brain there are neurons that respond to motion/action. This makes sense in that if you want to do something like pick up a glass, then something in your brain should fire to make that happen. What is interesting is that it has been discovered that the exact same neurons fire when you watch someone else pick up a glass. In other worlds, your brain respondsĀ the same way to an action whether you are taking or someone else is taking it, at least parts of it do.

This phenomenon was originally discovered in primates, and has been confirmed in humans, but with an additional development. While primates can use this mirror function to imitate, humans have developed the ability to use it for learning.

We have layered one more layer of processing to the mirror neurons that allows us not only to identify with the action as if it were our own, but also to recognize the context and intention of that action. So, we can not only imitate the action, but understand its purpose. This can come into play even in language learning as an infant watches the action of the mouth to learn how to make the sounds.

This connection between observation and complex internal understanding is interesting. It is part of what people use in neuro-linguistic programing, NLP. This is not a generally accepted science, and actually leans a little more toward hypnotism. The idea being that you can control a conversation, and influence people’s actions and decisions on a subconscious level. One of the first steps is mirroring behavior. You mirror posture and subtle actions, you try to sink up your breathing pattern with theirs. Once the are comfortable and in sink, you can add subtle suggestions to lead to the outcome you want. OK, a little creepy yes, but whether you buy it or not, there does seem to be some validity to the idea of mimicking behaviour and observable biological rhythms. If the brain automatically responds on some level as if those are your own. It could at least have a calming and comforting effect, making someone feel more at ease in the environment.

I wonder if there is some application to creating the theatrical environment and action with intent. moments when performers become indistinguishable from audience members until they are needed, or scenes taking place mimicking the audience environment. In a sense blurring the line between performer and audience and allowing that familiarity to make the audience more comfortable with a deeper engagement of the work rather than keeping it at a distance, even comfort with participation if that is a desired outcome. Its not about manipulation, but about using what we know to create a comfortable and engaging environment both physically and culturally in the piece.



2 thoughts on “Monkey See Monkey Do

  1. As I have thought about your discussion on this topic, I too have thought about mirroring behavior, or at least action that is the same between two figures with one being slightly behind. The idea as to whether the mirror is learning or controlling can make for interesting conflict. The idea of audience interaction is interesting to me as well. Again, not about manipulation, but about exploring our own physical condition. For instance, the glass analogy makes sense to me because I am the type of person who will often pick up my glass when I see someone else do it, even if I am not particularly thirsty. I don’t think it’s because my brain is being controlled but rather it is constantly adjusting socially.

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