Have you ever had someone copy your style, mannerisms, or speech patterns? At first, it may come across as flattering, but it can be downright frustrating when it becomes a consistent and repetitive behavior. So, what does it mean when someone copies you? Psychologists shed some light on the various reasons and types of copycat behavior.
Understanding Copycat Behavior: Insights from Psychologists
Copycat behavior is a form of social learning that we see in many species. It’s closely related to imitation, which is the conscious copying of another person’s actions. On the other hand, copycat behavior occurs without any awareness or intention by the individual being copied. For example, if you see someone yawn and then you yawn back, that’s a form of copycat behavior. This type of behavior can be irritating for some people because it makes you feel like your personality is being copied or taken over by another person. But for the most part, copying is an adaptive strategy that helps us learn about our environment and how to navigate social situations more easily. (1, 2)
That being said, there are many different types of copying and reasons why people do it. These reasons can be innocent and even flattering. However, they can also be negative. Let’s dive into the world of copycat behavior to understand it a bit more.
The Different Types of Copycat Behavior
1. Copycat Personality Disorder
Some psychologists define Copycat Personality Disorder (CPD) as a condition where an individual imitates the habits, behaviors, or traits of another person in an attempt to ameliorate or conceal their own personality disorders. It is characterized by lack of self-identity and low self-esteem. Individuals with CPD may copy the behavior, speech, or fashion sense of another as a way to feel more secure or develop a sense of identity. (3)
2. Observational Learning or Overimitation
Observational learning is a type of learning where individuals learn behaviors by observing others. Overimitation, on the other hand, is a form of observational learning where individuals copy even the irrelevant or unnecessary details of what they observe. Overimitation is commonly observed in young children who copy every detail of actions they observe. Children copy what they see their parents doing and saying, as well as other “authority” figures they have. These can be teachers, counselors, coaches, older siblings, or even their peers.
3. Echopraxia and Echolalia
Echopraxia is a condition where individuals involuntarily imitate another person’s movements. Echolalia, on the other hand, is the repeating of sounds or speech patterns of another person. Both echopraxia and echolalia are associated with neurological and psychiatric disorders such as Tourette’s, autism, and schizophrenia.
Mirroring is a subconscious behavior where individuals adopt similar behaviors, mannerisms, and speech to those around them. It is often related to empathy and the desire to create a sense of connection with others.
Levels of Copying
Psychologists highlight the various levels of copycat behavior, including:
This type of copying is typically considered flattering and harmless. This is when someone sees something they like about you, say, the way you dress or your glowing skin. They go out and buy similarly-styled clothes or purchase the same skincare products so that they, too, can have what they admire in you.
Copying on a cultural level is evident in how people dress and express themselves. It also refers to people imitating the culture of where they are to fit in. This can often be seen with minority groups who attempt to dress and behave like the majority in order to have an easier time feeling accepted by that group.
The purpose of educational copycat behavior is to learn from others. Students may adapt other successful students’ study habits in an attempt to achieve similar academic success. In fact, studies have shown that simply by spending time with people who have behaviors associated with success, you will be more successful. Whether consciously or not, you tend to imitate their behaviors. If your friend group is studious, you will likely also gravitate to be that way. If they are less inclined to study and instead play video games or party all of the time, they will likely do that.
At this level, copying is typically intended to establish a connection with them or make that person feel more comfortable. Humans typically connect with people who are similar to them and feel more comfortable when surrounded by people who they feel similar to rather than the oddball out.
The Chameleon Effect
The Chameleon Effect is when an individual changes their behavior to fit in with a new group of people. This can be done consciously or unconsciously, and it is common for people to change their behaviors when they are first meeting someone new or going into a social situation that they have never been in before. It’s named after the chameleon lizard who changes its colors to protect itself from being seen by predators. Humans do it to fit in and make friends more easily, especially when they are new to a group or situation. (4)
Reasons for Copycat Behavior
There are many reasons why people copy one another. They can be both positive and negative. These are a few of the most common:
In some cases, people copy others when they admire or idolize them. Admiration can manifest in copying behaviors, fashion, and speech patterns.
As mentioned before, people suffering from CPD may copy others in an attempt to create a personality that feels “safer” to them.
Some people engage in copying behavior as a way to fit in with social groups or explore new identities. This can be especially common for minorities or people who have moved to a new school, city, or country with a very different culture than theirs.
Coping with Copycat Behaviors
If you encounter someone who repeatedly copies you, it’s important to remember that you can’t control other people’s behavior, but you can control how you react. Here are a few steps that you can take (5):
Talk It Out
If the copying behavior bothers you, try talking to the individual and ask them to stop in a non-confrontational way. Do your best to find out why they are copying you so incessantly. Explain why it is making you uncomfortable and encourage them to chart their own path or find their own style.
Set Healthy Boundaries
If the copying persists, it may be in your best interest to keep your distance and set boundaries. Even with your best intentions at a healthy conversation, they might not stop. This is when you have to do your best to keep your space from them. You can block them on social media, change your routine to avoid them, and make other changes at school or work to put distance between you.
Take it as a Compliment
Not all copying is negative. Sometimes, copying can be a sign that your behavior has had a positive impact on others, which can be a confidence booster. Your copycat might just really like your style or how you present yourself. Maybe they see your level of success and want to achieve that, too. Whatever it is, try to take it as a compliment and not let it ruin your day. Remember that no matter what, there’s still only one you.
The Bottom Line
Copycat behavior is a complex issue with various reasons and levels. Understanding the underlying causes of copying and how to cope with it can make dealing with this issue feel much less daunting. Remember to stay true to yourself, and keep in mind that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Keep Reading: These Are The Most Unattractive Qualities In A Partner
- “Copy That.” Psychology Today. Alain Samson Ph.D. April11, 2012.
- “Beyond the Perception-Behavior Link: The Ubiquitous Utility and Motivational Moderators of Nonconscious Mimicry.” Semantic Scholar. T. Chartrand, W. Maddux, and Jessica L. Lakin. 2005.
- “Copycat Personality Disorder (Does it Exist?).” Psych Reel. October 6, 2022.
- “The chameleon effect: The perception–behavior link and social interaction.” Psycnet. Chartrand, T. L., and Bargh, J. A. 1999
- “Stop Copying Me!” Huffpost. Robi Ludwig, Psy.D. October 16, 2014.