Fans and Mirror Neurons

The fan phenomenon has become much more massive in the current times, but it has always existed.

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The fan phenomenon has become much more massive in the current times, but it has always existed. In all times there have been figures or leaders who fascinated others and who got fervent followers, who follow them, admire and are even capable of making great sacrifices for them. The neurosciences have discovered that this phenomenon has to do with mirror neurons.

The great difference of the fan phenomenon nowadays, compared to what happened before, is the massive component and the characteristics of the idol. Before, no leader has accumulated fans all over the planet. There was no way for this to happen. Instead, it is now relatively common for the idol of a collective to escalate and become a planetary idol.

Likewise, before the leader or the figure should have obviously exceptional qualities. Not now. Relatively ordinary people manage to become idols of crowds by the work and grace of the media and advertising. Why does this happen? Part of the answer is in the mirror neurons.

The fan, reason of being of the “idols”

The fan is that person who admires another, and gradually develops a process of identification with it. Such identification reaches the point where the fan feels that everything that happens to his idol concerns him personally.

Such fan loyalty to his idol is based on the fact that the latter has extraordinary qualities or performs uncommon feats. In the past, it was the political, religious or artistic leaders who aroused that devotion. Currently they are basically the figures that reach notoriety through the media, who unleash the fan phenomenon.

Today, most fans do not know their idol personally. For that reason one of its great objectives is to approach this. They do it through what is published about them or by being aware of their works or their achievements. Also, of course, they are able to spend an entire night camping out in the open to enter one of their concerts or watch him get off the plane. What do they finally intend? The mirror neurons explain it to us.

Mirror neurons and identification

First there is the identification effect, which leads to empathy and the mirror neurons do everything else. Identification occurs because someone embodies virtues or characteristics that are considered ideal. In other words, they represent everything one wants to be or have. There is a desire to be like that person. Hence, the fan phenomenon is more common among adolescents, who are building an identity and looking for references to achieve it.

From such identification also appears a process of empathy. The fan begins to experience as his own everything that happens to his idol. He is open to learning and understanding what he does, how he does it and why he does it. His triumphs cause him great emotional impact and with them a dopamine discharge ensues.

Mirror neurons participate in this process. These, as the name implies, reflect in the mind what the subject sees others doing. They make possible, from the neurological point of view, identification, imitation and empathy. That’s exactly what happens in the fan phenomenon: an activation of the mirror neurons.

The questionable elements of mirror neurons

Identification, empathy and activation of mirror neurons are not always spontaneous processes. In fact, currently all this is usually quite controlled by marketing experts. For example, in a concert it is not always the primacy of the talent of the idol to sing or interpret an instrument. There is an additional paraphernalia for fans to feel in the context of an epic situation.

The same goes for football or other mass sports. The sport contests are spiced up with a whole press apparatus around. The images of flags, hymns, uniforms and passions take much more than what is simply one more competition. As the fans imitate the figures they admire, they end up being representatives of certain products or protagonists of some commercials.


In conclusion, mirror neurons are responsible for the existence of culture and society. It leads us to open ourselves to the other, identify with him and facilitate empathy. This healthy and laudable process is also used to induce us to imitate and develop empathy with figures that represent questionable values. It is useful for our lives that we learn to filter and decant those excessive admirations.