Mirror Neurons–The Neurological Basis for the Effectiveness of Experiential Learning and Response Engineering

According to Gilkey and Kilts (2019), neuroscientists have discovered a dedicated neural system which guides experiential learning in the brain. Known as “mirror neurons,” these brain cells mentally simulate objects, people, and actions of our prior experiences which allows for quick recall (Gilkey & Kilts, 2019, p. 93). This means that physical practice of a new skill is not the only way to learn the skill–it may also be learned through observation of the skill being performed (Gilkey & Kilts, 2019, p. 93).

Organizations can use this science in a variety of ways. While it may improve organizational effectiveness in more mundane tasks, it also serves to inform senior leaders of practical methods by which they can train their employees to survive a violent attack against their organization. Law enforcement agencies and the US military have discovered that the use of simulated munitions within the context of force-on-force training serves to train members how to survive lethal combat (ie. gunfights). When stress levels are raised during realistic scenario training exercises, employees–such as teachers, receptionists, nurses, doctors, etc.–can develop these mirror neurons to mentally form images (bookmarks, if you will) for violent, life-threatening events. This is one method for overcoming freezing behavior which is often observed in individuals under extreme stress.

The discovery of this dedicated system of mirror neurons now provides us with a partial window into how the incredible process of experiential learning actually works.

References: Gilkey, R. & Kilts, C. (January 2019). Cognitive fitness: Research in neuroscience shows how to stay sharp by exercising your brain. Harvard Business Review, Special Issue: The Brain Science Behind Business.

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