Monkey See, Monkey Do


Have you ever noticed that the more you are around others the more you pick up on their mannerisms? Or have you ever caught your self subconsciously mirroring the way someone else is sitting or standing? I know I catch my self doing it regularly. How accurate is the saying "monkey see, monkey do"? Over the past two decades, neuroscience researchers have been investigating wether this popular saying is based on human behavior.

Richard Cook from Unisersity 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." Cook uses parents to explain this. He says that parents can't help but imitate their newborns- If the baby smiles, parents smile back; If the baby sticks out its tongue most parents mirror this behavior. So, are we programed from birth to be copycats?

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Cook says, "this experience causes the impulse to imitate to become so ingrained that it is often  subconscious." For this, cook uses the example of a waiting room- if one person begins to tap their foot, it is not uncommon for the whole room to being tapping. This can be translated to a class room. If the person sitting next to me is resting their head on their hand most of the time, I end up  resting my head on my hand without even realizing that I am copying someone's actions. 

Why are our actions so easily influenced by others? 

Automatic copying is controlled by a network of brain regions called the "mirror neuron system".

This part of our brain responds immediately to the sight of any action and often before the conscious brain. The mirror neuron system in our brain makes us mirror other's actions.The association for psychological science found that it mirror neurons are why we understand people's actions, speech, and also their minds.This system in our brains wires to mimic those around us.

So are we copycats or is imitation is the greatest form of flattery?



I think we are generally copycats. I find this more true with people picking up accents. My family is from Jamaica and when I was younger I spent the summer with them. I would unconsciously pick up their terminology. I wouldn’t notice it until someone pointed it out to me. My friend who grew up with me goes to school at University of Virginia and when she comes back home on break and we hand out, I hear her use words that I have never heard her use before. Also, new things that come out in the media easily get picked up unknowingly. I one day referred to someone who was pregnant by saying “preggers.” I literally stopped myself and was like where did I get that from and why? I think it was Snooki. I think it has a lot to do with your environment and how many people are saying or doing something. My hypothesis is that the repetition causes the brain to remember things easier to where it just becomes natural.

I think it is more of a survival instinct. From the little bit of reading I did it makes sense since prior to written history most of our knowledge came from the people around us. I can't count the times that I have watched something and later decided to try it myself.
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Copy Cats

hey victoria! I found your post especially interesting because I believe it applies to me as well! Once I came to school, I began to realize that so much of the way I talk is exclusive to my town only. So many of the people Ive met at school have no idea what I mean when I say certain terms that are common knowledge in my town. Im wondering if this might be related to how people imitate others actions. Does this also apply to language and how we talk? I know my entire town uses the phrases and terms I do and I know other people whose towns use phrases and words Ive never heard of before. I of course never came up with these terms and only began to use them once my friends did, so technically I was copying the way they talk. This leads me to believe people are copycats because I did it with all the phrases and words exclusive to my town without even realizing it until I came to school!

Reading this article made me think back to taking CAS 100 here at Penn State. In this group speech class we learned about groups and the way people transform to fit the "norms" of a group. Norms are the unstated informal rule enforced by peer pressure that governs the behavior of a small group. This "monkey see, monkey do" behavior is due to the power of conformity, which in other words, is behaving accordingly to the socially accepted standards. A great example of this power of conformity is this elevator clip. In it you will see how people react whenever a group of people come into an elevator and change the "norm" of standing forwards, and instead stand facing backwards. It is interesting to see this power of conformity work on the people unaware of the test being done by them. Check it out!

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