Just a Thought
How the brain makes a whole out of parts
Part 4: Why do some people cry at the movies?
Brain researchers have figured out what makes you cry at the movies. Mirror neurons make you do it. Your brain, somewhat confused about reality, responds to the tear-tapping scene as though you were the actor you have empathetically connected with.
The discovery of mirror neurons by an Italian research team is considered by some to be one of the potentially most important discoveries in brain science in at least a decade.
Like many great discoveries, the existence of mirror neurons was revealed accidentally. Researchers had been tracing brain activity in macaque monkeys generated by physical activity such as reaching for a peanut. One day one of the researchers reached for a peanut while a macaque was stilled wired but sitting idly by. Immediately the crackling sounds of electrical activity generated by the macaque’s brain was heard through the monitors as though it was the macaque reaching for the peanut.
It is clearly self-evident that when one person demonstrates an empathetic connection with another person, the second person’s response is most likely a positive one that pulls the two people closer together. That is what marketing is about: closing the space between consumer and marketer.
Once again it raised the perennial question: What does this have to do with marketing?
While this may be true, it seems to be “a MacDonalds” conclusion. That is, that research discovery has many other important implications, most of them more important than the money-making concern of marketers. Linking research outcomes to marketing only does lead one to think that we are reaching a stage where promoting consumerism and sale have become a major reason in human pursuit. I would welcome your opinion.
Meanwhile, it would seem, based on the discovery of mirror neurons, that communication objectives include triggering the firing of mirror neurons. If what you have to say does not do that you will find it harder to arouse and retain the attention of the consumer. In this connection, Nova recently did a 14-minute piece on mirror neurons which you can access at the PBS website. Take 15 minutes out of your busy schedule to watch this short film. You’ll find it interesting http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/3204/01.html.
On a related subject, if you're skilled at a physical activity like ballet, the part of your brain that controls movement activates differently than the same part in the brain of someone who is not skilled in that activity. That is what researchers at the University College of London (UCL) have found in a fascinating new study. The study has implications for helping injured athletes continue to train without moving a muscle, and perhaps even helping stroke victims regain lost movement.
In the UCL study, dancers from London's Royal Ballet and experts in capoeira, a Brazilian martial arts form, were asked to watch short videos of either ballet or capoeira dancers performing brief dance moves. While watching the videos, the dancers were lying perfectly still in an MRI scanner. A control group of non-dancers also participated in the study, which was published in the December 2004 online edition of Cerebral Cortex.
The researchers found that areas of the brain collectively known as the "mirror neuron system" showed more activity when a dancer saw movements he had been trained to perform than when he observed movements he had not been trained to perform. (All the dancers in the study were male.) The mirror system in the non-dancers showed appreciably less activity while watching the videos than either of the dancers' mirror systems, and the response it had was the same whether it was watching ballet or capoeira.
Earlier studies with monkeys revealed that brain cells called mirror neurons respond both when we do something, like pick up an object, and when we simply watch someone else do it. It was known that these neurons fire when we perform an action, but it came as a surprise that the same cells also fired when we only saw that action being performed. The new study went a step further by showing that such a system operates differently depending on what you are physically expert at doing.
"This is the first proof that your personal motor repertoire, the things that you yourself have learned to do, changes the way that your brain responds when you see movement," says Daniel Glaser, a neuroscientist who was part of the UCL team.
"Our findings suggest that once the brain has learned a skill, it may simulate the skill through simple observation without even moving. An injured dancer might be able to maintain his skill, despite being temporarily unable to move, simply by watching others dance", says UCL's Patrick Haggard.
And so, by understanding how the mirror neuron system works, doctors may be able to better rehabilitate people whose motor skills were damaged by stroke.
The 11th Capoeira Festival was held in Sydney from 6 to 19 March 2006.
Mestre Peixe's group “Group Capoeira Brasil” is a branch of one of Brazil’s most popular groups. It has been running in Sydney since 1992. Further information from http://www.capoeira.com.au/Frameset_final.html
Future issues of this newsletter will delve into this research revolution and illustrate how brain health science is being extended to facilitate brain span to match the life span. David Wolfe and Robert Snyder call it Ageless Marketing .
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Project Manager and Editor, Quality4life
24 March 2006