Imitation Is The Sincerest Form Of Flattery: The Psychology Behind Copying

Copying. This is definitely one of my pet peeves. From University work to fashion styles, people can’t seem to help themselves from attempting to be original yet failing so very hard. Without appearing to be up my own bum, which I probably do anyway, people always seem to copy me. I know I sound like a petulant child. If taking pride in something I’ve created myself is an obnoxious trait to have, then so be it! The latest incident involved somebody copying something I’d written, and attempted to mimic the style in which it was done so as well. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back and so I wanted to understand this phenomenon. Drawing upon my Psychology degree (wayhey! I’ve used my degree after graduating…) I have come up with a conclusion. So if you’re having the same troubles, take note: copying appears to be a normal psychological process evident in all of us!

As human beings with a very complex collection of neurons and electrical impulses, it can be very difficult to pin-point the exact cause for a behaviour. However, it’s generally agreed upon by Psychologists that human beings often imitate others unconsciously. In short, they’re not aware they are doing it. I’d argue different for the people who shamelessly style themselves on Tumblr and then claim to be “Hipsters”. Despite this Tumblr craze of unoriginality, mimicking can actually have benefits in social situations. Copying other peoples’ body language has been proven to increase their liking towards you, which can strengthen the bond between two people or a group. This is definitely something to bear in mind when you’re about to sit down for an important job interview. Other instances where copying behaviour is advantageous falls to the idea of peer reviewing. Whether it’s a book or a film we’re wanting to relax with, where do we go first? Generally it’s Amazon or another website that lists reviews. Based on popularity and good feedback, you probably select the option which is highest up the ratings list. This is a very good idea, as I recently worked out that I have wasted 20 whole days on rubbish films that I should have researched before watching. That’s 480 hours. I’m still not over this fact.

Whilst there are benefits of imitating another, new research by White and Argo (2011) has illustrated the detrimental effect mimicking can have on consumer behaviour. Much like my irritation at copying somebody’s dress sense, this study has shown that if a person’s illusion of having consumer individuality (having their own style) is compromised it can prompt negative responses. Interestingly, the research uncovered consumers’ tendencies to distance themselves from a product they already own if a friend or relative mimicked the same behaviour i.e. showed interest to this particular item. It appears that people can live with having the same coat or pair of shoes as somebody they are never likely to bump into again, which would explain the popular trends on Tumblr. However, they still like to feel individual and unique. Should they see their sibling or parent behaving favourably towards that new top they wanted, it will suddenly become unappealing and they will find a new trend of interest.

To me, you shouldn’t necessarily have to switch your interest to another item of clothing. You saw it first, so you should have it! Here are a couple of ways to overcome the issue of being copied and losing something which would look oh-so-good in your wardrobe:

  • Customise it! This will definitely give you a unique style and there’s a very low chance you could bump into anybody wearing the same thing.
  • Put them off the item. Here we draw upon under-hand tactics, however sometimes it is necessary.
  • Suggest a new item. Try and transfer their attentions to something else by pointing out how dashingly handsome or ravishingly beautiful they would look in it.
  • Hide the item. If they refuse to succumb to your peer pressure, once they have bought it ensure that it never comes out of the washing machine again.
  • Be honest. The most moral of all five. Just be honest and say you’ve had your eye on the item of clothing for a while. Maybe they’ll be nice and clear the way for you to purchase the item. Should this fail, revert to the point above.
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