If imitation is considered as the highest form of flattery, why does it get under the skin of so many people? Regardless of age, sex or race I’m going to make a wild bet and guess that we all have been the victim of a chronic copycat at least once in our life. Many studies conducted by researchers like Heyes (1993) have proven that even rats imitate each other. Some people become enraged over this. For example many artists and businesses will trademark their names to avoid copycats. Authors like Grey & Stubbs (2001) state that in marketing brand imitation is problematic because it suggests that competitors that copy share the same characteristics and qualities.
I can see how this could be a problem if say a brand as luxurious as Chanel was having its characteristics and qualities compared to those of a cheap knock off brands. It was suggested by Lashinsky that there was tension between companies like Microsoft and Apple due to imitation in 2015. Perhaps this is why having being imitated triggers so many people? Or maybe it is because the imitation is stemming from a deep sense of resentment or jealousy? In previous posts I have spoken a fair bit about jealousy and how that can result in toxic competitiveness. I also discussed how people with low self-confidence often seem to compare themselves to others and in doing so they might begin to feel inferior when the person they are comparing themselves to has something that they wish they had, but do not. This can often result in competitiveness through the use of imitation in order to feel superior again. If this is the case then this example of imitation could stem from subconscious resentment and possibly result in sabotage. A great example to think of is the movie ‘Mean Girls’ where Regina George is admired to such an extent by her friends that they imitate her every move, with hopes to surpass her place in the social hierarchy at school.
On the other end of the spectrum however there are others who take it as a compliment, and enjoy that they have inspired others to try act, think and behave just like them. There are also people who are incapable of imitating others and this is due to having lesions on the brain as discovered by Liepmann (1908). This is because the frontal cortex and inferior parietal cortex areas of the brain are activated upon imitation. This strongly suggests that there are “imitation systems” inside the brain, therefore if they are unable to function due to lesions, imitation cannot occur as proved by Liepmann. The phrase ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness’ by Oscar Wilde has been around for centuries. Therefore thinking of this behaviour as a compliment has been a socially constructed concept for a very long time.
Imitation can occur through copying certain ideas, skills, sounds, gestures, facial expressions, fashion choices and a whole range of other behaviours and thought processes. When I made a reference to attachment theory (Bowlby, 1958) within childhood in various previous posts I touched on how when children are young, they turn to their parents to observe the facial expressions and general reactions that they are giving in response to their behaviour. They do this to gain approval from their parents, whom they view as the most admirable people in their life because they cater to all of their needs e.g. provide food, change their diapers, give them a bath, shower them with love etc. Children also copy their parents because they admire them to such an extent that they want to be just like them. This is why you might often see many toddlers digging through their mothers make up bags and smearing lipstick all over their faces.
Unconscious imitation on the other hand differs because it only occurs when two individuals have very strong rapport, in turn they begin to unconsciously mirror each other. Generally you will notice this among pairs of best friends because they might sit the same, use the same mannerisms, pull the same facial expressions etc. In a Neuro-linguistic programming course I undertook by David Key I noticed that mirroring was actually recommended in order to build rapport quickly with strangers. This is because mirroring the way someone else is sitting will subconsciously send the message that you are a trustworthy person who is worth opening up to. Upon learning this I began thinking how bizarre it is to go to such an extent just to show that you are trustworthy, because in my opinion I believe that if you have a good quality then that quality alone will speak volumes. For example if you are naturally a very relaxed person then you will not need to go and shout that you are relaxed 24/7 on every rooftop that you see. This is because everyone who comes into contact with you will automatically notice that you are relaxed, and perhaps this might even evoke feelings of calmness and stillness within themselves too, making them also relax. So this made me question whether people who do this are trustworthy themselves, if they are trying so hard to force it subconsciously.
People get sued everyday for imitating, for example Ivanka Trump for copying the shoe designs of Aquazzura as highlighted by Zarya (2016). Perhaps people like brand owner Edgardo Osorio get fed up with copycats because they work so hard to creatively express their originality in a way that feels authentic to them and then have people who steal all of the credit for their hard work in the name of “flattery”.