Mirror Neurons. Understanding other’s emotions via internal simulation.

What are the Mirror Neurons?

Mirror neurons (Rizzolatti, G.) Hypothesis: “Mirror neurons” transforms sensory information describing actions of others into a motor format similar to that the observers internally generate when they imagine themselves doing that action or when they actually perform it. That is the book definition, but to make it easy, we can say that mirror neurons activate our brain in a similar way that the brain activation that have had the others that actually is feeling the emotion. In some way, it could be related to empathy. This process is done as an internal simulation of the looked emotion. But it comes up the question if we able to recognize the feelings of other due to their facial expressions.

Do we recognize expressions? Is this a learned or an innate competence?

It is pretty normal to recognize the fundamental expression such us happiness, sadness, anger, boredom. But how do we understand them? First let’s see some funny fact about a learnt behavior of our brain that tends to feel comfortable with the objects they see all the time. Specially our faces since this is one of the things in which we spent most of our time seeing (remember we are social animal and we live in community).

Let's try to understand some brain behavior using an interesting example: please check the two photos. Then click on the second (the rotated one).

Now we can see how confortable we feel with the mouth and the eyes not being rotated, and that is because our brain realize they are in the way they should be, even though most of us do not have a clue.

Here is another example.

Question: which one is the depression of the surface and which one is the elevation of the surface?

The answer is that they are the same picture but rotated, but why we perceive the first as the hole and the second as a hill? That is because to adaptation and learning that the light comes from above of us we tend to make that guess. But image if the light comes from the inside? Probably we would in reverse. So these examples could say that we learn from our experience and for example when we see “happy” people we can learn from the facial expressions and then understand them in other situations. As a matter of fact, this is NOT TRUE. There is a great study done on blind people where they compare facial expressions on athletes that have been blind since they were born so it was impossible for them to learn the facial expressions, and in fact the expressions correlates almost perfectly between them showing that fundamental emotions are INNATE.

Marketing applications

This is very important to communication, for example in print media. Because maybe you can use mirror neurons to induce behavior in your consumers. Just as an example we can see: STRENGTH? EMPOWERMENT? Try it yourself with different campaigns an try to figure it out what emotions is trying to emphasize with.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read. Any comment will be well received.


  1. psychcentral.com/news/2008/12/30/facial-expressions-are-innate-not-learned/3570.html 
  2. http://www.unipr.it/arpa/mirror/english/staff/rizzolat.htm