The saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery makes total sense to me, and I’ve always been flattered if someone asks where I got something. But lately, I realized I might have a problem with Sophia, and since we work together, um…is that awkward? After I hunted down a bag on eBay similar to one she carries, I stopped for a second to count up how many Sophia-inspired pieces I own. Guys, there are five. Some of them were specific, with me asking her for info, and others, like my new trusty camel blazer, were more general (they subconsciously landed on my shopping list after noticing how good hers looked).
The research that’s been done on the subject focuses a lot on teenage girls and the phenomenon you might’ve noticed when you see a herd at the mall and realize that, OMG, they’re all dressed nearly identically (the last time I saw this was a group all wearing black leggings, Uggs, and North Face fleeces). No where is fitting in more paramount than high school, where unofficial uniforms cement the pack mentality. Brenda Berger, Ph.D., a psychoanalyst in NYC, gives an example in Psychology Today about two teen friends playing the copy-cat game. “What she was attempting to do was to use her friend as a means to bolster her own ego. By latching on to the same jeans, she was really seeking mirroring and external conformation and supplies from her friend as a way to pump herself up, so she could feel more confident and less vulnerable.” She’s describing the concept of mirroring, which is what infants do with their mothers.
The author of the article, psychologist Stephanie Newman, Ph.D., brings up the idea of twinning, explaining it as us identifying who we’d like to be and then working to re-create that image. It makes sense, though the concept in impressional teens, sometimes struggling to find a sense of self, is a little different than a mature adult who’s hit their stride. I adore Sophia, but she’s her own woman and I don’t want to be her—I just want to have the same blazer and purse.
Still, it might be more than admiring her taste in accessories. Time reported a study done with monkeys a few years ago that has more adult implications, noticing that the animals spent more time near and looking at a scientist who mimicked the way they were playing with a small ball. The monkey that wasn’t being copied by his human, comparatively, lost interest pretty quickly. It proved the idea of reflexive imitation, the notion that people like having things mirrored back to them and are more prone to be supportive and friendly with those that do. The same article cites a Dutch study that found that participants being imitated were more likely to help the imitator and that waiters who use some of the exact same words their customers do receive larger tips.
The takeaway? Maybe my innocent admiration of Soph’s stuff is actually my primal brain kicking in and thinking that if she notices I’m wearing similar earrings to hers or toting my stuff in a look-alike purse, she’ll subconsciously feel more positive toward me, putting in a good word for me when necessary or marking down especially glowing notes on an annual evaluation.