New evidence indicates clues about the source of empathy – mirror neurons.
The ideas in this article hint that when we see someone’s actions, it triggers motor neurons in our own brains so that we feel as though we were performing the actions ourselves. It’s an interesting idea – and fits neatly with some experiences that we might relate to. But it’s very interesting in terms of culture change and behaviour in organisations.
Later experiments confirmed the existence of mirror neurons in humans and revealed another surprise. In addition to mirroring actions, the cells reflected sensations and emotions.
"Mirror neurons suggest that we pretend to be in another person’s mental shoes," says Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine. "In fact, with mirror neurons we do not have to pretend, we practically are in another person’s mind."
So, seeing someone else’s actions trigger in our own minds the sensations and emotions that we might feel if we were performing those same actions. It ties neatly in with some work a few years ago that hinted that whenever we see someone taking an action, we automatically associate an intention to that action.
Similarly in organisations – when we hear an announcement or see action being taken by the organisation, we tend to project an intention onto that action. And that intention is a result of cognitive patterns that we have developed through experience – stories of what we believe this action will lead to.
Nice clean, clear communication? Never again – because the listener will always attach an intention and an interpretation to whatever they hear.