Ever notice how you slowly start talking and acting more like the people you spend the most time with?

This phenomenon, known as "behavioural contagion,” can shape our actions and habits in powerful ways.

But why do we feel the urge to copy others?

One theory is the chameleon effect, where we subconsciously mimic those around us, especially if we perceive them as having a higher status.

This can explain cults of personality, like how Amazon executives became 'clones' of Jeff Bezos.

But it's not just about fitting in.

Research has also shown that we're more likely to mimic immoral behaviour from people we see as similar to us.

In a study at Duke University, students were more likely to cheat on a test if the person who cheated before them was wearing a Duke sweatshirt.

However, if the person who cheated was wearing a sweatshirt from a school with potentially lower status, cheating didn't increase as much.

Our capacity to copy others may be thanks to mirror neurons, which fire in the brain's motor cortex when we watch others perform specific movements, including when monkeys watch humans.

But while monkeys may have mirror neurons, humans are the only creatures that replicate what we see others do, even if it means making the same mistakes.

In fact, humans have a bias towards over-imitation.

It's a way of signalling connection and feeling like an insider, but it can also lead us down the wrong path.

In a study with chimpanzees and human children, they were both given a rake and shown how to grab food with it.

But if the adult used the rake with the tines facing up, the kids would replicate the behaviour exactly, even though it was less effective.

The chimps quickly realised the human adult’s mistake and adapted with trial and error, rather than blindly copying the adult.

Pay attention to your actions and your motivations.

Try to notice when your actions and reactions are truly original, and when you're simply acting out a pattern you've seen in the past.

Distinguish between deep desires and mimetic ones.

Imitation is human, but it's most effective when tapped into intentionally.

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