Why was I mirroring my grandmother?
December 5, 2008 6:19 AM   Subscribe

Last night I visited my grandmother's nursing home at dinner time and ended up spoon feeding her for the first time. No matter how hard I tried to suppress it, my mouth kept reacting to the spoon. Why?

It was odd... every time I put the spoon near her mouth, I had to fight not to open my mouth.

Every time I went to remove the spoon, my jaw tightened slightly and my lips moved to add friction against the spoon.

Every time she got some on her face or lips, I had to fight very hard not to lick my lips or wipe my own face.

What on earth was going on?

It's not as if she was sat opposite and mirroring my other actions. We don't look alike (she stopped looking like a 6'4 beardy bastard years ago) and she wasn't keeping eye contact with me...
posted by twine42 to Human Relations (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have children? I've noticed that parents tend to mime eating while spoon feeding their children even long after the child has gotten the hang of it. So it could be a learned habit.
posted by jedicus at 6:42 AM on December 5, 2008

Response by poster: Nope, no kids. Other than pratting about when offering my wife a taste of a meal, I think it's the first time I've ever fed anyone.
posted by twine42 at 6:48 AM on December 5, 2008

Same reason my mother in the passenger seat put her foot through floor every five minutes when I was learning to drive. Up until now, you've only spoon-fed yourself; you're not used to handling the spoon part and not the mouth part.
posted by Mapes at 6:48 AM on December 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Could have something to do with mirror neurons.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:58 AM on December 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

The exact same thing happens to me feeding my 8 month old son. I even exaggerate the motion, and by the end of his meal my jaw is tired. I have to consciously clamp my jaw shut to avoid it. The only time this is not the case is if I am speaking with someone else while feeding, and as long as I am speaking it seems to override the need to open and close my mouth. So if it is a defect, I am defective in the same way.
posted by procrastination at 7:05 AM on December 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think this is built-in parental instinct. Helping weaned young to eat is about as important as it gets for mammal, evolutionarily. (that is not a word.) I think this is a behavior we developed long ago to take advantage of the mirror neurons and get the kids to open up. When you're caretaking, whether it's your offspring or not, those ancient behaviors come storming back, and your brain knows exactly what to do about your desire for your grandma to open and close her mouth at the right times.
posted by ulotrichous at 7:21 AM on December 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thirding the instinct. I do it all the time with my own kids. Well, when they're small and I'm spoon-feeding them. Not so much now.
posted by jquinby at 7:36 AM on December 5, 2008

There was an interesting post on the front page of Mefi yesterday that is related to the phenomena you experienced-
Definitely read the "body swap illusion" part of the post...
posted by extrabox at 8:24 AM on December 5, 2008

Add me to the list of people who do this when they spoon feed their kid. It is embarrassing.

By the way, spoon feeding is the second most labor-intensive block of feeding. Breast feeding is the hardest, then you get a break if you switch to a bottle, then back to the grind with spoon feeding, but you are back on easy street when they learn to feed themselves.
posted by cockeyed at 9:51 AM on December 5, 2008

Just wanted to assure ulotrichous that evolutionarily was a fine word.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:59 AM on December 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I did this when feeding my daughter as well, never noticing it until it was pointed out to me.
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 11:00 AM on December 5, 2008

I don't think it relates just to the motions of feeding/eating. When I see someone doing something complex with their hands, like juggling for example, I notice my own hands tense up or move. (Mind you, I do have kids.)
posted by tracicle at 11:31 AM on December 5, 2008

I'm going to agree that this is probably something to do with mirror neurons/ body swap illusions, but not the way ulotrichous proposed. I think this is almost a neurological reflex that's an accident of behaviors you've learned and the behavior you're doing when you feed your grandma, and not an "instinctive behavior" we have evolved to feed young.

If you're really interested in the neurological basis for this sort of thing, read Phantoms in the Brain by V.S. Ramachandran. Don't worry, it's approachable even for someone who doesn't know a ton of neuroscience.
posted by slow graffiti at 12:48 PM on December 5, 2008

I do the same thing when feeding my small kids - it's practically impossible for me not mimic the action. I even do it when watching someone else feed my children. It's almost embarrassing how completely unable I am to control it - I've been wondering what the hell causes it...
posted by widdershins at 1:01 PM on December 5, 2008

Heh. I used to work as a care assistant in an old folks' home, and I used to do this too, so you're certainly not alone - I'd forgotten until you mentioned it. I don't have kids either, so it's not learned from feeding babes.
posted by penguin pie at 3:35 PM on December 5, 2008

« Older Caribbean elopement   |   I'm Not Going To Pay A Lot For This Video! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.