Since the beginning of humanity, we’re a species who have cultivated personal relationships. This instinct is so powerful that neuroscientists say we cannot help ourselves. We’re drawn to people we’re comfortable with, we want to be near people like us, and we enjoy interacting with those who share wisdom with us.
These signals are hardwired in all of us based on evolutionary survival strategies. Is that sound in the woods something that might eat us? Is it a friend? Or maybe a potential mate?
These basics instincts are so incredibly powerful that we can’t help ourselves in the way we react, no matter how much we try.
It’s why we enjoy the company of close friends so much. It’s also why we’re uncomfortable in a crowded elevator. Both are times that we are near other humans, but in one case we share a close personal connection and in another we don’t know the other people. In one case our brains say we are safe and in the other our survival instincts kick in making us wary.
The power of mentoring and mentors can also be explained by the signals firing in our brain. Mentors are important to us because as we develop a strong personal bond with somebody offering advice and we are physically near our mentor, our brain fires the neurons that signal safety and security, both among the most basic human needs.
But what about virtual mentoring? Are the same powerful human instincts at play when we meet with somebody electronically?
It turns out the answer is yes, because of something called Mirror Neurons.
Mirror neurons are a group of cells in the premotor cortex and inferior parietal cortex of our brain. These neurons are fascinating because we humans process information when we see somebody on a video screen in the same way as if the person were actually in the same room as us.
In his book Mirroring People: The Science of Empathy and How We Connect with Others, Marco Iacoboni, a leading neuroscientist, explains the groundbreaking research into mirror neurons. He calls them the “smart cells” in our brain that allow us to understand others in many ways from imitation to morality, from political affiliations to consumer choices.
Mirror neurons explain why we feel that we “know” a television personality that we’ve never met, because our brains fire as if we have a close personal relationship with that TV personality. Even though we’ve never been in the same room, our brains tell us we know them as if they have been physically next to us many times.
As I was reading Iacoboni’s book, I kept getting excited about the concept of how mirror neurons explain the science behind the power of virtual mentoring. Having technology that enables us to connect in a such a way lights up our brain in the same way as if we were being mentored in the same room, sitting across the table.
In today’s world where we have colleagues all over the world, it’s impossible to meet face-to-face in the ways our great-grandparents did. However, technology that helps overcome the divide is powerful indeed, it brings the world closer together and is a force for good.
No one knows more about using the new real-time tools and strategies to spread ideas, influence minds and build business than David Meerman Scott. He is author of ten books - three are international bestsellers – and is best known for “The New Rules of Marketing & PR”. He's currently researching the importance of passion in business. David is an advisor to InstaViser.