This is a conceptual study which looks at the anatomical processes involved in modeling and consumer learning, otherwise known as mirror neurons. These mirror neurons allow the consumer to learn vicariously in a passive environment, which is an ideal scenario as it represents most situations in which the consumer is exposed to a marketing message. The concept of mirror neurons is relatively new even from a Psycho-behavioral analysis point of view, and it is a very new concept for Marketing and Consumer Behavior. Yet, it seems to provide a very tangible explanation which supports general marketing theory as to the process and results of modeling behavior. The concept of mirror neurons also has implications for the development and refinement of a variety of marketing strategies.
The recent discovery of mirror neurons has implications that extend far beyond the medical arena. The implications for Marketing are substantial as we begin to develop an understanding of the anatomical process of learning and modeling and its influence on a variety of promotional activities (Coyles and Gokey, 2005; Wormian, 2005). This concept of mirror neurons came about as an accidental finding while conducting observations on the macaque monkeys (Ferrari et al., 2003). One particularly important finding was observed when a scientist simply moved to grab a raisin. The monkey's observation of the scientist reaching for the food triggered similar neuron firing patterns as when the monkey himself made the movement (Ferrari et al., 2003). Subsequent research has shown that this phenomenon also occurs in humans (Ruzzolarti, and Craighero 2004).
These mirror neurons have been found to fire in the exact pattern and exact cerebral areas when an action is simply observed as when it is physically performed. Neurologists suggest that this unconscious firing is the underpinning for many of our most instinctive reactions and behaviors, including our ability to empathize, to model the actions of others, and the very mechanism that permits the development of language (Arbib, 2002; Rizzolati and Craighero, 2004). A common conclusion among these studies suggests that this unconscious internalization may enable humans to learn the observed behavior vicariously. This may be a fundamental bridge for imitation and learning that enables us to learn through observation. Learning and modeling are key strategic elements for marketers as we attempt to influence the attitudes, motivational drive, and future behavior of consumers (Peter and Nord, 1982).
THE MIRROR NEURON SYSTEM
Fundamentally, the mirror neuron system is the activation of components of the brain, primarily those involved with pre motor functions, through impulses initiated by visual observations. The anatomy of the mirror neuron system can be divided into two parts (Arbib, 2002). The flrst part controls the visual component, and it is comprised of the occipital, temporal and parietal areas of the brain. Collectively, these regions are the ones responsible for converting a visual stimulus into an electrical impulse that is later relayed to the motor functional areas (i.e. the second part of the MNN). The bulk of this conversion occurs in the occipital region or the visuospatial processing center of the brain where it receives raw sensory information from the retinas, processes it and provides initial interpretations such as color discrimination, discernment of movement, interpretation of facial gestures and basically creates a virtual map of the outside world. (Buccino et al., 2001).
The second part of the MNN includes the motor regions of the brain which are comprised primarily of the inferior parietal lobule and the precentrai and inferior frontal gyrus. This part of the MNN is involved with integrating the visual impulses and adding a motor component. This motor component is the mechanisms that enable human language development, most motor functions, planning and impulse control. …