Martin Lindstrom's recent book buy-ology is a scientific look into why we buy - both the truth and lies of our consumer captivated culture. Based primarily on a multi-year study using fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and SST (a brain scanning technique which measures electrical activity in the brain) researchers discovered some amazing results about what drives consumer behavior. Why the importance of this research? Consider this: in 2007, corporations in the US spent over $12 billion on market research. Add to that actual marketing expenses: packaging and displays, TV commercials, online banner ads, celebrity endorsements, and billboard - which have a price tag of $117 billion in the US alone. Now for the kicker - even with all the research and marketing, eight out of ten product launches fail within the first three months. With these facts in mind, Lindstrom set out to prove that traditional market research was flawed because the major factors in consumer decision were taking place at a subconscious level that observation and surveys could not detect. Enter the fMRI and SST, and over two thousand willing participants in a three year study.
Back to those mirror neurons: when we watch someone do something, whether it's scoring a touchdown or playing a perfect piano concerto on a grand piano, our brains react as if we were actually performing these activities ourselves. In short, it's as though seeing and doing are the same thing.
Mirror neurons are also responsible for why we often unwittingly imitate other people's behavior. This tendency is so innate it can be observed in babies - just stick your tongue out at a baby, and the baby will most likely repeat the action (I plan on trying this with my grandson next week during the holidays!). When other people whisper, we tend to lower our voices. When we're around an older person, we tend to walk more slowly. Mirror neurons explain why we often smile when we see someone who is happy or wince when we see someone who is in physical pain. Researchers have even documented similar responses when subjects read a phrase like "biting a peach" and later view videos of people performing the same simple action.
In short, everything we observe (or read about) someone else doing, we do as well - in our minds. Mirror neurons not only help us imitate other people, they're responsible for human empathy. They send signals to the emotional region of our brains - the area that helps us tune in to one another's feelings and responses - so we can experience what it's like to walk (literally) in another person's shoes.
These concepts of imitation and vicarious participation are a huge factor in why we buy the things we do. Have you ever been disinterested in a certain product, then after a time, changed your mind? What happened? Sometimes, just seeing a product over and over makes it more desirable. As if this wasn't enough, research also indicates that mirror neurons work in tandem with one of the brain's pleasure chemicals, dopamine. Dopamine is one of the most addictive substances known to man - and purchasing decisions are driven in some part by its seductive effects.
What in the world does all of this have to do with your church and it's efforts to reach people who aren't connected to God in a personal relationship? Here are some of my thoughts:
- Our front line greeting teams matter - a lot! How we extend greetings - verbally, physically, and through our gestures will often set the tone in the recipient's frame of mind to respond in like manner
- The physical settings and circumstances of our facilities can spark positive - or negative - reactions from guests
- The excellence of our ministry efforts - expressed through music, the spoken word, and our actions - will cause subconscious positive emotions in our guests
- Conversely, our less than best efforts may subconsciously impact our guest in a negative way
These are a few of my thoughts - what else can you draw from this brief look at the power of mirror neurons? Leave a comment or send me an email and I will add them to the list.
Bonus question: Can you identify the movie scene from which the title of this post is taken, and why it is so appropriate?