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Mirror Neurons: Emotional Copycats

What are Mirror Neurons? Well, Emotional Copycats…

“Enthusiasm is contagious, and the person who has it, under control, is generally welcome in any group of people”

– Napoleon Hill (Author)

First discovered in the 1990s Mirror Neurons are found primarily in the premotor cortex, which is a region of the brain that is involved in planning and executing movements. However, they are also found in several other areas of the brain, such as the supplementary motor area (controls movement), the primary somatosensory cortex (detects sensory information), and inferior parietal cortex (define human interactions).

Mirror Neurons fire when an individual performs an action, but also when that individual observes another individual performing that same action. For example, if you see someone reach for a glass of water, the same neurons in your brain that would fire if you were reaching for a glass of water will also fire. This suggests that Mirror Neurons are responsible for our ability to understand and empathize with the actions and emotions of others.

The discovery of Mirror Neurons prompted the notion that, from a functional viewpoint, action, execution, and observation are all closely related processes. Our ability to interpret the actions of others involves our own motor system.

Mirror Neurons are distinguished from other motor or sensory neurons who only trigger execution or observation, and not both. Mirror Neurons are unique in their activity is regulated by both action, execution, and observation. This activity also shows a degree of action specificity.

Not only with actions though, but Mirror Neurons are also constantly paying constant attention to other people and their emotional state.

Mirror Neurons are involved in the development of social cognition, which is our ability to understand the mental states of others. This is because mirror neurons fire not only when we observe someone performing an action, but also when we see someone experiencing an emotion.

That is to say: Mirror Neurons pick up on other people’s mood and mirror that feeling in you. It’s a phenomenon that called Emotional Contagion.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this in action: when someone else is stressed, how easy is it to also become stressed – or sad when someone is sad for that matter?

Moreover, Mirror Neurons work for the positive side. It’s very hard to be sad and down around someone who is bubbling with happiness and excitement. That is because, as the classic saying says - enthusiasm is contagious, and its Mirror Neurons that have a lot to do with this contagion.

“Enthusiasm is contagious. Start an epidemic”­

- Don Ward (Comedian)


Daniel Glassbrook, PhD

Daniel is a sports scientist and researcher, currently working as the first team sports scientist for the Newcastle Falcons Rugby Club, and a postdoctoral researcher in sports related concussion at Durham University.


Acharya, S., & Shukla, S. (2012). Mirror neurons: Enigma of the metaphysical modular brain. Journal of Natural Science, Biology, and Medicine, 3(2), 118.

Herrando, C., & Constantinides, E. (2021). Emotional contagion: A brief overview and future directions. Frontiers in psychology, 12, 712606.

Kilner, J. M., & Lemon, R. N. (2013). What we know currently about mirror neurons. Current Biology, 23(23), R1057-R1062.

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