The Surprising Truth on Why We Imitate Others

I’ve always been curious, why do we yawn when we see someone else yawn? Why do we at times subconsciously imitate the people we are the closest to? Is there a reason we start acting and talking like our friends that we spend the most time with?

Many of us believe that if you’re yawning you must be exhausted, but according to a new study not all yawning is based on energy levels. Not going to lie, the entire time I was researching and writing this post I was yawning. Yet, I was drinking a Starbucks grande peppermint mocha, and I had a great night’s rest the night before.

There are two types of yawning: Spontaneous and Contagious.

Spontaneous yawning happens when you’re bored or tired. Spontaneous yawning is first observed in the womb, while contagious yawning doesn’t begin until early childhood. Contagious yawning is actually a phenomenon that only occurs in humans and chimpanzees as a response to hearing, seeing, or even thinking about yawning. Some scientists point out that only sociopaths aren’t prone to contagious yawning.

According to Dr. O’Garro-Moore, “when we are more focused on individuals around us, we have greater concern for them, feel some degree of dependency, and hold a desire to be liked. These factors lead people to mimic others more.”

We often mimic people we admire. If you’ve ever been studying or working with a person that you hold in high esteem you tend to sit the same way as them. Or maybe even your facial expressions will match theirs.

The scientific reasoning for mimicking others is explained by brain neurons called the ‘mirror neurons’.

Mirror neurons are brain cells that fire both when you watch someone else do something and when you do the same thing. These neurons are linked to being able to understand facial expressions and how that person is feeling. The mirror neuron system responds immediately to the sight of any action — often before the conscious brain recognizes what is happening.

This scientific reasoning is used by professional rock, paper, scissors (RPS) players. (Yes its a thing.)

Jason Simmings, a professional RPS player tested this theory in the mall while shooting a promotional video for the game. Approaching a man in a cowboy hat he asked him if he had a second to play a game of rock, paper, scissors. Making the sign of scissors with his hand he asked, “You throw on four, right?” The two men count to four and on four, Simmons beats the other man by throwing rock to his scissors.

You might think Simmons had just as good of a chance to tie or lose as he did to win. Simmons does not. A series of experiments found that people playing the game rock, paper, scissors are far more likely to ‘draw’ (match their opponent’s gesture) when they can see each other.

Psychologists who made the discovery say the unconscious desire to mimic is so powerful, it occurs even when people know they will be penalized for drawing a game.

Richard Cook, from University College London, said: “From the moment we’re born, we are frequently exposed to situations where performing an action accurately predicts seeing the same action, or vice versa.

Simmons deployed a common “street” tactic. When he flashed scissors while demonstrating when to shoot, Simmons primed the man in the cowboy hat to play scissors. The game ceases to be based off of pure luck when you can influence or predict your opponent.

People who study the game state that because of the mirror neurons, its common for mimicking to be present in the game. Those who are obsessed with the game are convinced that if the brain could be trained well enough it's possible you could automatically form a pair of scissors when your opponent makes a paper gesture — instead of automatically making the paper gesture yourself.

To sum it all up, imitation can be a beautiful thing. Something that we as humans use to connect on a deeper level with each other. It can also be extremely detrimental to us. Especially in the case that we begin to infringe on others' intellectual rights or plagiarize.

Copying can be an integral way of learning, allowing us to develop and grow into well-rounded beings. It's up to you on how you choose to use it.


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