In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to reveal the dangers of the human brain – the way we learn, connect and understand other people, and why you need to be very careful.
First a quick update:
“Abercrombie & Fitch selling push-up, padded bikini tops to 8-year-old girls”
Yes, Abercrombie & Fitch is selling padded, bikini tops for girls as young as age 8. It’s another example of the sexualization of young girls. Are we sexualizing young girls to get the attention of men or to encourage women to use their daughters to compensate for their own lack of sexual appeal by living vicariously through their daughter? Is this the extreme extension of the beauty-pageant mother who now seeks to make up for what she can never be? Read my thoughts and insights on my blog or directly here.
Now, let’s talk about the dangers of our brain – the way we learn, connect and understand other people and what the danger is for us because of that.
In 1991, in Parma, Italy, a group of neuroscientists stumbled onto an amazing discovery when by sheer accident, they noticed that when a monkey saw a human reaching for food, it would trigger in the monkey’s brain the same response as if the monkey was reaching for the food. In other words, the monkey was feeling the action made by the human even when the monkey wasn’t actually making the action. The scientists labeled this “mirror neurons” and with further research, in the next decade, they discovered that the human brain has multiple and more complex neuron systems. And according to Dr. Giacomo Rizzolatti who led the initial research “Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation. By feeling, not by thinking.”
What that simply means is that we don’t use logic to understand, interpret or predict other people’s actions – we use feelings – we feel their action.
Have you ever watched a horror movie and felt the fear of the person in the movie running and screaming? Have you ever watched a film where you see a hairy spider slowly crawling up someone’s leg? Did you feel it as if it were happening to you, or even feel it happening right now? Have you ever watched a funny home video where someone has an accident and stubs their toe and you suddenly reacted as if you were feeling the pain, too? Or perhaps, you were next to a child crying and you felt his or her pain, and you began to cry as well.
The reason we feel pain, pride, disgust, empathy, sadness, excitement or joy from watching someone else in an action involving that corresponding emotion is because we simulate that action in our mind, along with the intention and emotion. This explains why laughter, smiling or even yawning can be so contagious and how we feel empathy and compassion for other people.
Thus, with these neuron systems we can read people’s faces, gestures, body language and so forth. We can also determine an intention. We can distinguish a simple hand movement – the difference between a hand reaching to the table to pick up a cup to drink at the beginning of tea time and a hand reaching to the table to clear away the cup at the end of tea time.
Further research reveals that the same principle applies to hearing about an action; when you listen to sentences describing an action, the same mirror neurons fire in the brain as would have fired if you had performed that action described or if you had witnessed the action being performed. In other words, listening to a sentence about an action or even hearing the sound such as tearing paper, will feel as if you are actually doing it.
Thus, the observer becomes the actor or performer; the innocent observer becomes the person engaging in the action.
So what is the real significance of these findings, of mirror neurons?
I have explained that children learn by copying, by imitating and of course, any parent understands this, and it is believed that the innate ability and automatic action of copying begins at childbirth. Dr. Andrew Meltzoff from The University of Washington has done studies revealing that a newborn baby, just a few minutes old, will stick out his or her tongue at an adult doing exactly the same thing.
The ability to copy and imitate is the process we learn and grow; it is also the way we develop our culture. However, what we now understand from neuroscience and mirror neurons is that the child isn’t just learning by copying the action, he or she is also feeling the emotion behind the action.
Again, why is that so significant?
When a child sees parents arguing, fighting or screaming, that child is also feeling that pain. When a child witnesses dad physically abusing his mother he is learning to copy that action and will almost certainly grow up to abuse women but is he also taking in and feeling the pain by the mother?
And this is the conflict and contradiction I see in some clients: to whom is the young boy or girl relating to when he or she witnesses the abuse? Is the child feeling and empathizing with mom’s pain or is he feeling and connecting to dad’s anger and rage? Some of my clients experience both:
- The anger and rage towards women (or the expression of anger and rage as an act of violence)
- The pain of the victim – the woman
But the person (male and female) can also experience self-loathing for their actions or carry guilt for their inability to protect mom; for their helplessness as a child.
A simple and relatable example is in the 1997 movie, “LA Confidential” where Russell Crowe plays Wendell ‘Bud’ White, a policeman who bends the rules to bring about justice and uncovers along the way that while he is trying to protect women, he is also trying to protect them from himself; he too, has anger and rage. His moment of revelation comes when his rage surfaces and he is about to hit the woman he loves, and realizes he is the very thing he hates.
Marco Iacoboni, of University of California, Los Angeles, a mirror-neuron researcher states that mirror neurons systems “suggest that imitative violence may not always be a consciously mediated process.” In other words, we don’t always consciously control it.
The significance of mirror neurons for adults is tremendous: as a parent you need to be aware that no matter how often you say “Do as I say, not as I do” your children will do what you do, they will copy you without trying. I have had numerous clients tell me that their parents, with a cigarette in hand, would scold them as children “Do as I say, not as I do” and then they, too, would grow up to become smokers.
As an individual, remember that when you watch other people do something it is as if you are doing it yourself – you feel what they feel. Thus, what do you expect to happen if you are surrounded by people who are angry, unhappy, depressed, cynical and so forth? Every time, you see a person whose face reveals disgust, your mind will feel the same thing because it is the only way you can process and understand the other person, even if you don’t consciously want to do so. We experience vicariousness subconsciously and without a conscious desire to be vicarious – and this partially explains the fascination and obsession with today’s celebrities.
So yes, be careful with whom you surround yourself and to what you expose yourself on a regular basis, because you will inevitably simulate that same action and emotion in your mind. Nothing is neutral. Choose those things and people that support and empower your life goals.
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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”
Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist
Anointed “The Woman Expert” by WGN Chicago, Patrick Wanis PhD is a renowned Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert who developed SRTT therapy (Subconscious Rapid Transformation Technique) and is teaching it to other practitioners. Wanis’ clientele ranges from celebrities and CEOs to housewives and teenagers. CNN, BBC, FOX News, MSNBC & major news outlets worldwide consult Wanis for his expert insights and analysis on sexuality, human behavior and women’s issues. Wanis is the first person ever to do hypnotherapy on national TV – on the Montel Williams show.