I had never heard of mirror neurons until today. Apparently, these neurons, which activate both when a person does something and when the person sees someone else doing it, may play an important part in mass hysteria, as well as many other processes.
In monkeys, mirror neurons are located in the frontal, temporal, and parietal lobes of the brain. Research suggests that similar neuron pathways are also found in humans. According to Medscape,
“… 4 characteristics of the mirror neuron system could contribute to their role in the pathogenesis of mass hysteria. First, failure of the inhibitory component in certain individuals might predispose them to imitate others. Second, transmission of mass hysteria symptoms typically occur by visual and auditory means, both of which are processed by mirror neurons. Third, mirror neurons may play a role in emotional contagion, which allows us to “catch” and feel the emotions of others. Finally, mirror neuron activity is more active in females, a group consistently overrepresented in episodes of mass hysteria.”
Mirror neurons could play a huge role in learning, especially in children. They love to imitate others because their brains are programmed to do so, and the young brain’s plasticity would make it easy for new circuits to be formed.
What about those of us who, as adults, are struggling with making changes in our lives related to mental illness? Can we use our mirror neurons to help us develop more effective styles of coping?