The mirror neuron system precipitates the experience of empathy because we have ‘mirror’ neurons in our brains which are special cells which enable us to feel the emotions of another person.  The degree of empathy can be affected by several factors such as how well we know the person, how we feel about the person and how the person has behaved in the past. Research has shown that men in particular respond in this way.

The renaissance

Brain mirror neurons were discovered by Italian scientists in the 1990’s. They studied macaque monkeys and noticed that the same areas of the brain were stimulated whether the monkey was doing or acting in a certain way themselves or whether they were observing another monkey or researcher behaving in the same manner.

Neuroscientists such as Marco Iacoboni (UCLA) have argued that mirror neuron systems in the human brain help us understand the actions and intentions of other people. In addition, Iacoboni has argued that mirror neurons are the neural basis of the human capacity for emotions such as empathy.

I have a feeling

The neural systems in the insula which is part of the cortex are mirrored between the person having the experience and the person observing the experience. The mirrored experience is less intense than what it is for the person having the experience.

Scientists have discovered by using MRI scans that certain brain regions are activated when people experience disgust, happiness and pain etc and when they see another person experiencing an emotion.

Some researchers discovered that human mirror systems do not passively respond to the observation of actions but is influenced by the mindset of the observer.

So, our mirror neurons affect the behaviour and feelings of our pupils but these are influenced by the mindset of the pupil.

Knowing best

If we are able to notice better when we are feeling depleted, tired, anxious or stressed, this can be the difference of whether we carry this with us into our lessons on autopilot or recognise what’s happening and learn ways to make us feel happier and less frazzled. If we are happier and less frazzled, it stands to reason that what we project is going to be far more useful than the negative vibes being given off by our shredded nerves. This awareness and self care can be gained through having a Mindfulness practice.

I’m sure we all remember our favourite teachers. For me it was those who seemed composed, kind and understanding rather than the ones who looked like they hadn’t slept in a week and yelled at their students.

Looking forward

The environment we create can be conducive or detrimental for learning to take place.  The way we feel, affects how our students feel. If we can in any way help support them to feel better too, it’s a win win and one day we might just feature up there on the ‘favourite teachers’ list.

I’ve started so …

Just wanted to give you the heads up about a free talk that Dr Victoria Kroll has kindly agreed to provide. This is about her fascinating research into Mindfulness and driver behaviour. I really hope you can join us if you’re free – it’s FREE!


San Harper

Guild of Mindful Driver Trainers