Mirror Neurons

Written by ryan on
Mirror Brains

The human brain is just about as fascinating as it gets.  How it learns, adapts, and recalls is a marvel to me, but there's one discovery that just pushed it all over the edge.

Warning: this is simplified.

About 40 years ago, scientists started monitoring neural activity in monkeys as it correlated to monkeys' physical actions.  They were eventually able to map a monkey's neural activity to an action performed by the monkey, e.g. reaching for a peanut.  That's pretty cool, but it gets better.  Later, a scientist reached for a peanut, and noticed the same neural activity in the monkey as if it were the one doing the reaching!  That's really cool.

Yadayada, scientists eventually discover that humans display the same trait, and we now know this activity as the work of "mirror neurons".  When it comes to learning and development, these little mirror neuron doohickeys are seen as one of our greatest strengths, as they are what fundamentally drives our ability to imitate and empathize.

As worship leaders, this is actually quite relevant.  The visible things we do as leaders can actually have a significant impact on how our congregations engage the Lord in worship.  When we leaders physically reach for heaven in worship, mirror neurons around the room fire left and right, potentially allowing for a more holistic connection between the worshipers' hearts and our Father in heaven.  When we leaders smile, their hearts can smile.  When we dance, they might feel as if they are doing the same.

Now, we have to be careful not to get carried away, here.  This "mirror" isn't exactly what we think it is.  The leader's activity motivates activity in the follower's brain that would represent how the follower would experience that action, not necessarily the leader.  So, if somebody is uncomfortable raising hands in worship, they'll probably feel uncomfortable as they see the leader performing that action.  Or, perhaps it will be a gentle way to create new neural pathways in the follower's brain, unlocking a positive experience of biblical postures of worship in a safe worship setting.  Wow.

As we lead, we hope to invite worshipers to experience and worship God in an integrated, holistic way: heart + soul + mind (Matthew 22:37).  And by our very leading, we can help others get just one step closer to that end.


Brain people, please comment below to correct my understanding of this!

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