The Chameleon Effect: What Makes Us Imitate Othersย 

Conscious imitation of others or a psychological phenomenon

Nadya Hamdan
The Chameleon Effect: What Makes Us Imitate Others 

Photo credit: Jess Foami/Pixabay

The chameleon effect is the unconscious imitation of the postures, mannerisms, facial expressions and other behaviors of communication partners. The effect occurs when our behavior passively and unintentionally changes to match others in the current social environment.

When people see someone doing something, they're more likely to do the same without even realizing it. In 1999, psychologists John Chartrand and Tanya Bargh did some experiments on this phenomenon called the chameleon effect. They found that people copied the actions of strangers without being aware of it. Another test showed that copying someone's body language helps us connect with them and feel more sympathetic. A third experiment found that empathetic people tend to mimic others more than those who aren't as empathetic.  

If we find ourselves unintentionally starting to mimic a friend's facial expressions, phrases and body language, then we are definitely exhibiting the "chameleon effect". Some people even "pick up" an accent or dialect from others, and this may be due to the same effect. When we are close enough to someone, we often begin to express ourselves like them and even our interests become more similar. Here are a few examples of the manifestation of this psychological phenomenon:

  • We involuntarily smile when they smile at us
  • We start speaking with the same dialect or accent as the group we are in
  • During a job interview, we feel that our body language (crossing our legs, torso posture, head nodding) mimics that of the interviewer
  • Our gestures are just like our best friend's
  • The lines and phrases we often use match those of our lover

From a psychological point of view, the "chameleon effect" can manifest itself for various reasons - social, cognitive, emotional.

๐Ÿ‘‰It may be a subconscious desire to be accepted and liked by others.

๐Ÿ‘‰It could also be a fear of rejection and again an unconscious attempt to get closer to others by imitating them.

๐Ÿ‘‰The cause could also be a result of identity issues. When a person has difficulty in self-identifying, it is possible to try to identify with someone else's behavior.

The "chameleon effect" also finds application in business and marketing, becoming a winning strategy for many entrepreneurs.

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