Flash back to your early days in school: your class is making hats out of newspaper. You have just come back from the bathroom and you missed the explanation of how to fold the newspaper properly. You notice many of your friends are already hard at work folding in the precise manner necessary to form the hat. What do you do? You copy them, of course!
The quickest way to learn anything is by merely copying what you see another person doing, we call this mirroring. If you are a bear and you see another bear stand on its hind legs to reach food, you’ll try it out for yourself. If you are in an audience and everyone starts clapping, you’re probably going to start clapping too. Mirroring is the quickest way to learn from others or to blend in with a group.
The American gym is a place where mirroring takes place all the time. If you see a muscular person doing an exercise you’ve never tried before, you’ll probably try out the exercise for yourself. You are able to synapse that person’s good health with the movements they are making. Logically, the exercise is synapsed with fitness, which you can attain by trying the exercise.
This happens all the time when we learn and it is a great way to solidify the new information. Have you ever learned a new word and immediately tried to say it for yourself? You are mirroring the sound and learning the muscle memory to create that sound, adding to you budding neural cluster of that word.
The gym is also a place where the patrons tend to wear a specific attire: usually we call them gym clothes. In order to better fit in with the gym goers, you’ll probably try to mirror the type of outfits that they are wearing. You might even mirror the behavior as well: you will probably act differently in a social gym than one where everyone keeps their headphones in. In both cases, you will mirror the behavior of the people there in order to blend into the group.
To get a clear example of mirroring group behavior, take a look at an average middle school student. By middle school, children’s brains have developed enough to see themselves as different from the group and their desperate attempts to “fit in” lead to a rather homogeneous culture: you know them as fads.
Mirroring is technically a Basic Function which means it is automated before birth; consciousness doesn’t really play a role here. Seeing someone yawn makes you want to yawn: your brain remembers how good breathing is when you see someone else doing it. Girls who live together will often synchronize their menstrual cycles over time. Seeing someone smile will make you smile.
In fact, mirroring is the mechanism of communicating all of your emotions. If your friend is sad, you mirror that emotion and feel sad as well. Your emotion now signals to your friend that you understand; we call this type of mirroring sympathy. Think about times in your life when one person’s emotions affected some else’s in a positive feedback loop. Anger begets more anger, laughter inspires more laughter.
From an adapted advantage to a socialization strategy, mirroring is the process of taking in stimulus and repeating it. It might seem like a very simple function but it is a powerful tool at your disposal. We have to utilize our adaptations for good and “be the change you want to see in the world.” If you start, the rest of the world will mirror you.