Mirror neurons and sport

mirror neurons

First, let’s be clear about what mirror neurons are. If you want to get more detailed information, then google Giacomo Rizzolatti. He is a neurophysiologist, who headed a group of scientists who discovered mirror neurons.

Also, Giacomo Rizzolatti along with Corrado Sinigaglia wrote a book called Mirrors in the Brain. It’s a popular science book, rather scientific than popular. Therefore, I will act as a filter that will convey the necessary part of the information.

Basically, the moment we start talking about any discoveries in neuroscience, we’d better cover the entire spectrum of knowledge about the brain which these discoveries are built on. However, even hard scientists have to miss the moments that simply go beyond their competence. This is the case when it’s better to remain silent than say something to look smarter.

But I am a neuromarketer, moreover, in the field of sport, so I allow myself to speak more clearly. Whereas in the above mentioned book, the explanation begins with the motor system (the part of the central nervous system), I will start from the end and tie everything to my favorite topic of emotions.

Mirror neurons are responsible for imitation. This seems to me to be the most well-known simplified definition of the function of mirror neurons.

Further on the popularity of the definitions, empathy is referred to. The empathy itself is on the whole an extremely interesting topic for discussion, as there are so many different definitions of this term nowadays. Oh, the semantics!

For example, psychologist Paul Bloom in the release of the EconTalk podcast on empathy specifies that empathy is not necessarily doing good, as is often understood. Empathy is often equated with compassion, but it can also be just an understanding of the actions of others.

However, we can also recall that a person is able to truly correctly use empathy with the representatives of other groups (with people similar to us, we are certainly more accurate) in only one case out of four.

Again, it’s a matter for a separate talk – what small data is and how it helps us to convert this 25% of cases into a higher percentage.

To me, empathy is much more interesting to consider in the context of the effect of hormones, but, of course, it should be understood that empathy is also associated with mirror neurons.

Now, to comprehend the way to effectively use mirror neurons in sports, let’s think about the somatic marker hypothesis again. In very simple terms, our brain creates and updates somatic (emotional) markers all the time. Due to this, the absolute majority of our decisions are being made on the basis of decisions of the so-called System 1 (the unconscious).

Yes, nature mocks us even when creating an illusion that we are so different from other animals that we have the ability to choose.

In fact, that’s not exactly true, and the experiments of Antonio Damasio, proving the validity of the somatic markers hypothesis, reveal that people who, due to brain disorders, involve the “logical” module of the brain in decision making, have got a pretty complicated way of making even the simplest decision.

Enough with theory!


Conclusion: The use of mirror neurons can be enhanced by understanding the somatic markers hypothesis.

In what way? Let’s consider the example of working with fans. Actuating of mirror neurons can be achieved by a fairly simple advertising: a stadium, a person is excited, happy, and seems to be like you, though having something better about him/her, making you want to imitate him.

Too bad many people go no further. As a result, we are witnessing a large amount of primitive advertising using patterns and stock photos.

You’ll definitely get some kind of gain. But why not make this gain higher? The topic of emotional advertising and why it works twice as efficiently as “logical” advertising is a separate one. The point now is that the message for your target audience should be supplemented by the use of somatic markers.

This message may change for each segment, but should appeal to positive somatic markers, like those formed in childhood, when football was a great holiday, when you felt secure, being next to an adult.

I recommend that you consider Heineken advertising.

I’m not going to argue that this advertising is created according to the rules of neuromarketing, but in the example of the described above Heineken advertising, timing, emotion management and the emerging of the brand suggest that neuromarketing has been used as much as possible. And I assure you, the brand made back the investment in spades.

But in so doing, the use of such an example of mirror neurons and the somatic markers hypothesis should be part of a much greater strategy. The creation of an experience of being in the stadium, making people get back again and again, has to be worked on. Now that’s another issue. The issue of the effect of hormones on us.

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If you wish to apply the approach of sports neuromarketing to your club, we are always happy to help you. Just make your request by sending me a message on E-mail, and we will contact you within 24 hours.


Best regards,

Leon The Alien


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Images: pixabay, Giphy