The neuroscience of making sense of each other

The drive to make sense

One of my current preoccupations is sense-making, the drive that people have to make sense of things, so  I am always on the look-out for more information about it.  I was therefore delighted to find this piece from Leonhard Schilbach about how human beings make sense of each other, especially how we do that during social interaction.

Two neural networks

It seems that we have two distinct neural networks which help us make sense of other people:

  1. Mirror neurons which we use to make sense of other people based on our own understanding of ourselves; and
  2. A Mentalising Network where we have a ‘third person’ grasp of other people’s mental states.

Interacting with people helps us make sense

When we simply observe people, we use our mirror neurons. That means we make sense of other people on our own terms.

However, when we interact with people, i.e. share an experience with them, we use both mirror neurons and the mentalizing network together.  When we interact with people we think about them as if we were them.

This explains why qualitative research works!

It is often said that qualitative researchers need to be empathetic.  To me though empathy is not enough. Qualitative researchers have to switch their thinking between empathy with the customer and empathy with the client, from a first person perspective of the customer to a third person perspective.  

When the researcher meets the client’s customer and interacts with them – indeed shares an experience with them  - the two neural networks connect in the researcher’s mind, which then leads to greater insight.

Interesting isn’t it?


Tags: Semiotics, Qualitative Research , Sensemaking

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