12/02/2014 06:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Is There a Neurological Reason Why Friends Was Such a Successful Show?

In what ways was 'Friends' unique? What was in 'Friends' that is not in other sitcoms these days?: originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and access insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.


Answer by M. Scott Veach, Television writer/producer (Leverage, Zero Hour, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation)

I read a study once about some cognitive scientists who had discovered a part of the brain they called "mirror neurons." If I remember the study correctly, the idea behind mirror neurons is that they activate when you see/watch something that you perceive to be "like yourself in some significant way."

One of the ways they would cause these mirror neurons to light up is to show mid-30s family men episodes of The Sopranos. The show was written so well that nearly every man who had a family and watched Galdofini had a mirror experience. And the key to mirror neurons is that you don't have to actually be the same as what you are seeing; you just have to perceive that you are the same. And the activation was strongest when there was a combination of recognition and aspiration. In other words, you really had the mirror experience when you saw both how you are in someone else and also how you want to be.

There was a very off-hand casual comment at the end of the paper suggesting that the relationship between success of fiction and mirror neurons might be an area of research for someone. In other words, maybe successful shows are successful because they activate people's mirror neurons.

I have no idea if anyone has studied this further but I do vividly remember reading that article and knowing exactly what they were talking about. I remember experiencing that same feeling when I watched Friends for the first time. I was 20 years old at the time and I remember, quite vividly, having a feeling of recognition mixed with aspiration. I saw parts of myself in Ross and Chandler (as I suspect all people do) and I saw many ways that I would like to be in Ross and Chandler (wealthy, attractive, etc).

I can't say for sure this concept has anything to do with [the success of Friends], but I will say that as a television writer, I think about mirror neurons when I am writing my characters -- so hopefully there's something to it.

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