Reflecting on Mirrors

Mirrors influence how we think and behave.

Posted Sep 26, 2017

Mirrors can make our lives better. They let us know when we have spinach in our teeth and when we’ve forgotten to comb our hair. Mirrors can also help us feel that a space is more comfortable because it is the correct size, follows the rules our society sets for us, and eat better, for example.

Mirrors on walls make spaces seem larger because by reflecting light, they make the walls they hang on seem a little further away than they actually are. This effect can be staggering in a space like the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, and in the average bedroom can be the difference between feeling that a space is cramped and that it’s just the right size. Mirrors can also be used to “bounce” natural light through a space, though doing so without creating a blinding “glare field” can be quite difficult. Trying to move natural light into a space is worth the effort because seeing natural light has a positive effect on our mood and cognitive performance. When mirrors are positioned so that we can see ourselves in them, they have even more influence on how we think and behave. When we can see ourselves, we’re more apt to follow social norms, such as properly sorting our recycling into the various bins provided and not being prejudiced against other people. Mirrors can help people function in ways that are socially desirable.

Seeing ourselves in mirrors and our health are related in complicated ways. Sedentary women who can see themselves in mirrors as they exercise with others are in a more negative mood than other women who don’t exercise a lot who work out in rooms without mirrors or who exercise alone in spaces with mirrors. So, there are times when mirrors may not be appropriate. Researchers have also found that we eat smaller amounts of unhealthy foods we’ve selected when we can see ourselves in a mirror. Apparently, when we can see ourselves eating something we’ve chosen that’s not good for us, it doesn’t taste as good as it does when we can’t see ourselves. 

Carefully add some mirrors to your home—you (probably) don’t want to create confusing, funhouse-like infinite reflection effects. Mirrors well placed can make it more likely people live the sorts of lives they’ve planned.