General Question

longgone's avatar

Why do we mirror others' feelings?

Asked by longgone (17920points) April 22nd, 2016

What’s the benefit? I mean, social glue, sure, but it seems like we’d be more effective if we managed to understand each other without adopting feelings which are not our own.

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8 Answers

stanleybmanly's avatar

You don’t think empathy a positive trait? My friend’s kid dies and I shouldn’t be sad about it? Are you asking why we pretend to be sad when we don’t care? The answer to that one is that it is expected, as you said, “social glue.”

SecondHandStoke's avatar

Agreed.

One can demonstrate empathy without always compromising their own convictions.

Soubresaut's avatar

I can imagine how mirroring each others’ feelings can be an effective, efficient way to get a group on the same page… when there’s a stressor, one person’s fear can transmit to others, and everyone becomes more alert; when it’s a relaxed time, one person’s happiness can feed others’, and bolster a group’s sense of wellbeing; when one person is angry about something, the others may more quickly join against that “something” if they become angry, too. I don’t imagine that it’s about managing emotions, or even entirely about empathy—I imagine it’s about coordinating the group, keeping the group in synchrony.

I see this mirroring backfire in other situations—for instance, when someone is angry at another person within the “group.” Instead of the mirroring-of-anger possibly uniting the two people against a larger common enemy, it becomes this feedback loop of escalating fury…

I can imagine that the mirroring-emotions would help with empathy—would give someone a literal taste of what another is feeling—but I don’t know enough about either to know how much or little they overlap.

CWOTUS's avatar

“Mirroring” as you put it is how we meet others on their emotional level. The fact of mirroring is a sort of real world demonstration of our empathy, and from there – if the situation calls for it – we can start to attempt to elevate the common emotion. If you personify cheerfulness at someone else’s grief then they won’t respond to that, but if you mimic (and I don’t mean that in a false or pretentious way, but in the literal way of ‘copying’) their emotion, then at least there will be a certain reciprocity, and communication can proceed.

We communicate on our communicants’ emotional tone level.

longgone's avatar

Thanks, group synchrony and meeting others on their level both make a lot of sense!

To clarify: I was thinking that we would probably be more productive if we had a way of recognizing a friend’s anger without our judgment becoming clouded by our own, empathetic anger. I am now thinking that this is probably just wrong – emotions are extremely powerful, so they may be out best shot at becoming motivated to do something.

NerdyKeith's avatar

Well it’s a way to embrace empathy and try to be understanding. This can be very comforting for a lot of people in a lot of particular circumstances.

JLeslie's avatar

Mirroring fosters connection, and human beings need to feel connected. We don’t only mirror feelings, we mirror language, posture, facial expressions, we even catch each other’s yawns so we are in sync. It is indeed a visual cue demonstrating empathy, and I believe somewhat instinctual.

When we mirror nonverbally we allow the person speaking to know we understand without interrupting them. This is especially useful in times of grief, when the person grieving needs to talk things through.

Unofficial_Member's avatar

I’m sure different people will have different perspective thus different treatment toward other’s feelings. i.e. When someone in angry around me for sure I would rather not be affected at all (mirroring in this case will create problem).

Logical capability also play a big part in how we mirror other’s feeling (while at times it might contradict with empathy). i.e. when someone break her perfectly-manicured nails not everyone will mourn with her since they think nails are nails, while others who understand will.

I believe we mirror feelings because we, evolutionary-speaking, learn emotion first before any logic thus we naturally tend to use it as a staple in socializing with others.

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