Mirror neurons are essential to internet success

Web site visitors can be enticed away from their world and taken into the place you want them to inhabit – if you think about what you are doing with your web pages. Everyone who visits your site is in a different emotional state, has their mind on other things and is only loosely connecting with you. But you have the power to change that.

You cannot stop yourself feeling happy when you look at this smiling baby

You cannot stop yourself feeling happy when you look at this smiling baby

Scientists only relatively recently discovered some brain cells which they call “mirror neurons”. Most of this research has been done on monkeys, but there is some growing evidence that we humans also have such cells inside our heads. A mirror neuron is one that has no real function; instead it appears merely to copy what other brain cells do, hence their name.

These brain cells are triggered into action mostly when we are with other people. It is thought their actual psychological function is to enable social interaction. They work like this: when you are with someone who shows some kind of emotion, you feel that emotion not because you have generated it, but because your mirror neurons are copying what is going on in the other person. Similarly, if someone demonstrates how to use Twitter, say, it is much easier for you to understand than reading a book about it, because your brain starts to fire those mirror neurons which mimic the demonstrator’s typing, mouse movements and so on.

Take a look at the baby picture on this page; you cannot stop feeling positive, happy, warm, or bright. Unless you have had some kind of negative or dreadful experience with babies, your mirror neurons will have been triggered to mimic the emotions clearly demonstrated by this picture. You may not actually have been feeling positive, happy, warm or bright but the mirror neurons have suggested such emotions to your subconscious.

For web site owners this is tremendously powerful. For instance, if you want people to think good, warm, happy thoughts about your product or service, then use imagery and words which are likely to trigger such things. Far too many web sites show pictures of the products they are selling. You are much more likely to get true engagement if you show the emotional impact of using those products. For example, let’s say you are selling a book. Most web sites show a picture of the book – even if it is an ebook. Instead, show a person doing something as a result of reading that book and you will trigger the right kind of mirror neuron activity to help gain greater engagement with your product.

Also, don’t neglect the power if video. Even a short video showing someone reading that book will trigger mirror neuron activity in your web site visitors, so they feel the action of reading that book. That will entice them even more to buy it because they have already felt themselves reading it.

For many years, the world of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) has suggested we “mirror” the actions of others around us in order to gain rapport. There is some evidence that people do indeed mimic each other’s posture and facial expressions when they are in agreement with each other. However, the problem with the NLP mirror concept is that it is the wrong way round….! We don’t want to mirror other people – we want them to mimic us. We want them to feel the things we feel, to think along the same lines and to view the world the way we do.

That’s really important for web site owners, struggling to gain attention in a world full of similar information. You will boost your web site if you use imagery and video to start triggering those mirror neurons into action in your readers. Also, don’t forget the power of word-based imagery. Tell stories that engage your visitors and they will start to “live” that story themselves, gaining even more engagement.

In other words, it’s time that the average business web site stopped playing things so straight and started to use the psychological tactics the advertising industry has known about for decades.


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Graham Jones
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+
Graham Jones


Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist, professional speaker and author of 32 books who helps businesses understand the online behaviour of their customers
@bbclaurak Aha. That explains that old political term, the wets. - 10 hours ago
Graham Jones
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