Mirror, mirror, on them all
In a recent blog post, I recognised the “social reflection” phenomenon. After watching the next documentary instalment from David Eagleman, I now know why this happens.
I’m sure everybody reading this has been in the following situation: a stranger smiles at you, and you can’t help but smile back. After finding out the reason behind this, I am absolutely fascinated!
This is because the human brain is always trying to understand what is around it. It is quite common that brains find their selves surrounded by like-minded creatures; the brain’s quest for understanding is no different when it comes to intricate social comprehension. To undertake this complex task, mirror neurons within the brain cause it to mimic expressions, “trying them on”. This is so you can experience this specific configuration of subtle facial expressions for yourself and better understand what they are intended to project. The same underlying principle relates to when we see people experience emotions, and is why we flinch, cry and smile etc at movies. Even though you know the people on the screen in front of you are acting, you can’t help but simulate what they’re feeling to understand them. This is empathy.
The brain is very good at avoiding pain. Therefore, it shies away from simulating potentially painful emotions it’s not prepared for. To block its automatic empathy, it dehumanises the potential source of pain. For instance, many brains will unconsciously dehumanise homeless people. It is manipulation of this mechanism which is the main purpose of propaganda. In extreme cases, empathy is blocked by dehumanisation on a wide scale, resulting in genocide.
I wish to see people who have just had an injury, live a better quality of life. This involves me leading by example. I have recently taken the first step in this, in acknowledging that my pride wouldn’t let me admit my self-image was governed by fear. Whenever I interacted with people, those that didn’t automatically dehumanise me (before being subjected to a painful simulation), would reflect my worry and self-consciousness. Until now, I had thought that all this negativity and subtly being treated as a “lesser being”, emanated from people around me. This strengthened my projected negativity, becoming an exponential vicious cycle. I understand now it was self-inflicted. To combat this, I need to give myself the following advice. These words are “one size fits all”, so apply to everyone who has problems to deal with:
No matter what you feel inside, face the world with a smile and truly believe you can achieve your dreams.