Mirrors and Images


One of my most-read posts has been Reflecting on the Mirror, and both Neuromarketing readers and I have been, well, reflecting…

Are we our avatars? Reader Jason Sparks raised the question, “Is there any correlation to seeing oneself and our behavior in social media? Most social sites allow for an avatar or user images to be uploaded.” This is an interesting question… Certainly, most of us would post in a more responsible manner in a social network or forum if our photo appeared next to the post. While most of that tendency is due to the lack of anonymity in that situation, the “self image” effect described in my earlier post could be at work, too. Looking at one’s own picture tends to encourage more socially responsible behavior.

I wonder, too, if this could work in the other direction… if a person chooses an avatar of a gangster or a seductive nymph, might that person behave in a more aggressive or flirtatious manner? Of course, the mere selection of that avatar may indicate a desire to act out in that manner, but it seems possible that seeing one’s avatar during or before posting might provide a feedback loop that encourages such behavior.

Religious Icons. While some religions discourage or prohibit sculptures or paintings of their deity, others are awash in such images. If, as described in my Reflecting post, a picture of a pair of eyes can reduce theft of coffee in an unattended break room, might not a “watching” Jesus, for example, encourage behavior consistent with a Christian religion’s norms?

Dictators and more. Some totalitarian states elevate their leaders to near-deity status. Monumental sculptures, giant murals, and many smaller images celebrate the leader. Often, it is either customary or required for every home and office to have a portrait of the leader hanging in a prominent position. While one might dismiss this as simply a megalomaniac exercising absolute power, perhaps there’s another reason – like the eyes in the coffee room, might not ever-present pictures of the dictator encourage adherence to that country’s laws and norms?

Take a look at the photo above, which is from the interior of a North Korean metro car. The images of the past and present leaders gazing down certainly seems a lot more potent than a pair of disembodied eyes… (Photo via pyongyang-metro.com.)

  1. Alan says

    …might not a “watching” Jesus encourage behavior consistent with a Christian religion’s norms?

    Roger ~ Perhaps. But the Bible doesn’t exhort readers to hang up a picture — instead it exhorts readers to practice “watching” themselves:

    “I say unto all: Watch / Watch ye therefore / Couldest not thou watch one hour? / let us watch and be sober / Blessed is he that watcheth”

    …The Bible’s “watching” is the internal change in our attention from simple awareness to MIRROR-LIKE self-awareness — accomplished through paying attention to one’s peripheral vision. Here are a couple of 15th c. paintings illustrating the practice:



    …Any reader diligently practicing this internal, mirror-like “watching” will eventually undergo lasting improvements in behavior.

  2. Roger Dooley says

    Alan, at the risk of getting farther afield from the impact of mirrors and images, I’d also add that believers are often told that “God is everywhere” or, in some cases, “God is watching you.” An internal belief that one is in the presence of a watchful deity would almost certainly have an effect at least as strong as that of a mirror.


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