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Your Brain ‘Sees’ Video Images Same as ‘In Real Life’

December 1, 2020 | Influence and Persuasion

Our brains cannot tell the difference between online video and people in real life.

These are the results of a body of neuro-imaging research published in the Journal of Neurophysiology.

That’s an amazing statement.

How Your Brain ‘Sees’ & the Implications for Online Influencers

Here the implications of that statement for Online Influencer Marketing:

  • In 2021, we see 85% of the internet bandwidth is online video.
  • Online influencer marketing is a $14 billion market and doubling every 3 years.
  • The old marketing adage, Show, don’t tell implies that people will believe what they see in online video, regardless of what you say.
  • The Proximity Rule says that 18 inches is our Intimate Zone and anyone ‘in the zone’ is someone we trust or love. 
  • Watchable online content is usually ‘educational & entertaining’; find your own video mojo with the 1-2-3 Story Structure Masterclass (see below).
  • This influencer marketing online curse will help you develop your content and style. 

Dr. David Hamilton breaks it down a little further in his blogpost on the topic.

He shows that brain scans of individuals who imagine an activity, such as playing the piano, are indistinguishable from actually doing that activity in real life.


brain scan of people playing the piano
 Brain scan of people playing the piano and people imagining playing the piano is indistinguishable.

The Proximity Rule and Social Media Influencers

First described in the in 1963 book The Hidden Dimension by cultural anthropologist Dr. Edward T. Hall, The Proximity Rule elaborates Dr. Hall’s definitions of interpersonal space.

The Proximity Rule distinguishes the following zones:

  1. Intimate space is within 18 inches of your body
  2. Personal space is 18 inches to 4 feet in radius
  3. Social space is 4 feet to 12 feet in radius
  4. Public space is greater than 12 feet
Zones of Proximity from Edward T. Hall's The Hidden Dimension
Zones of Proximity from Edward T. Hall’s The Hidden Dimension

Intimate space is the most important space for social media photos, images and video placed on public platforms such as your website, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

According to Hall:

“Personal space is the region surrounding a person which they regard as psychologically ‘theirs’.    

Most people value their personal space and feel discomfort, anger, or anxiety when their personal space is encroached.  

Permitting a person to enter personal space and entering somebody else’s personal space are indicators of perception of those people’s relationship.    

An intimate zone is reserved for close friends, lovers, children and close family members.”

What builds trust from simply seeing an image of two or three people together, within their Intimate Zones, in online video?

Mirror Neurons

As described by David Meerman Scott in his book Fanocracy

“Our unconscious brain can respond to what we see as if it were our own experience, even if it is on social media, film, a screen or a faraway stage through something called mirror neurons.  

These neurons are fascinating because they not only activate when we perform an action – biting into an apple, smiling, or getting near to somebody we enjoy being with – they also fire when we observe somebody else performing the same action.

When those around us are happy and smiling, our unconscious brain tells us were happy, and we often smile too. (p. 69)

image of mirror nerons
Mirror neurons allow people to ‘read’ the emotions of other people.

How should a small business owner use the Proximity Rule in Social Media?

Images on social media is where the Proximity Rule becomes important.

  1. Use images of employees in videos with happy customers.
  2. Interview happy customers face-to-face  .
  3. Ask happy customers for video testimonials – ask them questions and appear together in the video.

How to Ask for a Customer Testimonial Video 

Prospective NEW customers TRUST images they see on social media within the intimate zone of a happy customer.

Mirror Neurons and Social Proof

Mirror neurons are the brain structure that helps us feel empathy – we see or hear the emotional state of another person through our mirror neurons and we respond accordingly. 

Laughter, sadness, crying and fear can all be communicated wordlessly.

Laugh tracks were those annoying sounds of canned laughter from TV shows of the 1960s and ’70s.  Everybody hated them.  So, why did network TV executives (presumably smart men and women) use laugh tracks?  

Because they worked.  

Why do laugh tracks work? 

Social proof and mirror neurons.

Mirror neurons were discovered in the 1980s by Italian scientist Giacomo Rizzolatti and his team in Parma, Italy.

Rizzolatti noticed activity in the brains of monkeys when the monkeys observed humans eating ice cream cones – which monkeys liked!

The monkeys saw the humans’ pleasure eating ice cream and Rizzolatti showed the monkeys also felt pleasure – measured via electrodes on their mirror neurons.

According to fellow scientist Marco Iacoboni:

Mirror neurons are the only brain cells we know of that seem specialized to code the actions of other people and also our own actions.


They are obviously essential brain cells for social interactions.


Without them, we would likely be blind to the actions, intentions and emotions of other people.

Marco Iacoboni in Scientific American

Top Social Media Personalities Using the Proximity Rule and Mirror Neurons in Online Video

Dr. Miami

Dr. Pimple Popper


Create Your Online Story

The biggest question people ask when they are producing live video online:

“What do I say?” 


“How do I keep it entertaining and educational and keep my audience watching?”

Don’t worry, you don’t need to tell jokes or do TikTok dances to attract and keep your audience online.

Style and Content

What you DO need is what we call ‘style and content’ – tell YOUR STORY with enthusiasm and energy – that’s your style.

Go on video with your customer, ask them questions ( our 1-2-3 Story Structure shows you how) that gets them to tell YOUR story in THEIR own words – that’s your daily content.

Free Masterclass = 123 Story Structure for small business owners
Free Masterclass: 1-2-3 Story Structure for Small Business Owners