Mirror, Mirror

Written by Martin Lucas

Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?

Don’t you love a good fairy tale? I do! The Queen said these words to the magic mirror many, many times until she found out she had competition and then she eviled up and the rest is, well, you know the story.

This week, we’re focusing on the Queen’s WHY, her ego and her instinct to survive. The practical science of one’s ego and survival instinct is that they are linked inside your brain. In the Evil Queen’s case, she wanted to survive but this version of survival was driven by an inflated ego which told her that looking the best was how she would survive. Thus, her logic was that she had to get rid of her competition to survive. It’s all a bit crazy, right?

Sigmund Freud spoke about this link as the Id (survival instinct) as our instinctive unevolved brain and the Ego as the driver of our rational brain. The Ego can guide the Id but never fully control it. In today’s language, the Id sits in the unconscious part of the brain, while the Ego sits in the subconscious; both are a tricky sort of tag team as things are not as cut and dried as what they tell each other. Interestingly, it can drive a lot of your love life.

How it goes down

Consider what a survival instinct is there to do:

To keep you secure and safe.

Safety is found in familiar things.

We avoid change and look for what we know.

Yay, we are safe! Now, who can help you find what you know and are comfortable with? You’ve got it! Your Ego can. It all sounds so awesome but there a few things I have to share which will either make you laugh or fill you full of fear (it’ll depend on your ego!).

Neuroscientists have recently discovered a trait known as implicit egotism. Like all science breakthroughs, a lot of research is needed to validate and prove the concept. My favourite example of this was an analysis of 15,000 married couples. They had a theory that one part of implicit egotism was that we select partners who have familiar traits as our ourselves, but it’s not always about liking the same movies and activities. In this case, there was a disproportionate amount of couples whose first names began with the same letter. Not simply a spike - it was the stone cold winner of couple names, those matching first letters. No one is suggesting that was the core reason these couples chose each other, but at least for one of them it made a difference as their unconscious mind analysed the situation.

If you doubt this, then consider that the testing goes really deep. ‘Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain’ by David Eagleman  is a great example. It includes testing where people have had words swapped out in sentences and are asked to pick their favourites, so the words have the same intent but the words beginning with matches to the first letter of their own name was also the stone cold winner. I’m not done though; let me take this to visuals also.

Taking this research one step further, we started looking at where this may affect other decision making. Now, the Ego is not inherently negative like the example of the Evil Queen; it’s just part of what makes you YOU. What follows will make you (at least) verify your ego with two simple tests.


Have you ever noticed how many couples look a bit alike?

Same nose, same face shape, same mouth, and other combinations thereof. It’s there to see if you look, not in all couples (same as with the first letter thing), but it’s still there. The answer is implicit egotism; we naturally select things which are more familiar to us and make us feel safer and cared for. In terms of activities you prefer, you pick friends with similar taste in music, right? Why would your brain NOT select faces that remind you a little bit of yourself? It would, and you know it ;-)

It doesn’t end there either; we do the same with dogs also! You know this is so true:


It’s funny! The truth of life is that we select partners (and pets) for many different reasons BUT the ones we pick have data-based reasons behind them and in this case it’s because your ego and survival instinct tag-teamed to make it so; they just didn’t tell you outright (well, not your conscious self anyway). That’s not to say our egos and instincts are the same; they are unique as each of us are. It’s just a factor to consider next time you see a dog and its owner or a couple that makes you wonder if they are a brother and sister.

Safety, familiarity, trust and who do you trust more than yourself…..