I’ve been thinking about mirror neurons after seeing a wonderful video at the PBS/Nova site. These specialized brain cells help us relate to our surroundings and other people. Mirror cells build empathy and connection. They are activated when we watch and listen to others.
The video suggested that mirror neurons function even more profoundly when we witness an emotion or activity that we ourselves have experienced. This explains why my husband can feel intensely involved when simply watching a football game and I am unmoved. Could this also explain why women are more often affected by “chick flicks” that explore subtle or complicated emotional situations? (Sorry for the stereotypes in this entry, I use them only to offer simple examples!) In this case, young girls and women in our culture seem to practice and explore these “complicated emotional situations” more than men.
I recently met a manager who was supervising a team of eight women. “Tom’s” struggle to relate to his team compelled him to attend one of my EI seminars. Tom confessed that he wasn’t comfortable expressing emotions. He also acknowledged that the women on his team seemed like an alien species. If Tom isn’t emotionally literate, are his mirror neurons less able to help him relate to the “emotional” women at work?
Learning about brain structure continues to help me understand how emotional intelligence offers practical assistance in daily life. I see the benefit of constantly developing our awareness of emotional states. For Tom, recognizing his own fears and angers could help his mirror neurons fulfill their function--helping Tom empathize with his team.