Modeling is central to character education. That’s because we’re born imitators. Babies just a few minutes old will stick out their tongues at adults doing the same thing. We often mimic behavior without even realizing it. How does it happen?
“In a finding with enormous implications across many fields, scientists have discovered that we all have brain cells called mirror neurons. Here’s how the remarkable process works: Certain brain cells fire when we perform goal-related movements like grasping, holding and tearing. The mirror neurons lie next-door and fire when we see other people doing these things, forging a kind of muscle memory. Even more amazing, mirror neurons also code the intention of the person viewed.
“When you see me perform an action — such as picking up a baseball — you automatically simulate the action in your own brain,” Dr. Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at UCLA, told the New York Times. “And if you see me choke up, in emotional distress from striking out at home plate, mirror neurons in your brain simulate my distress. You automatically have empathy for me. You know how I feel because you literally feel what I am feeling.”
Since mirror neurons are somewhat out of our control, we can pick up good or bad habits by association with good or bad people, and Dr. Iacoboni worries that kids are growing more violent from seeing endless brutalities in movies and TV shows.
As Gandhi said, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Whether you like it or not, you’re a role model.