Hi! My name is Gretel Tassah and I’m part of the Writing and Art Teams here at Magnify Wellness. This piece explores the Chameleon Effect, a social behavior that has a complicated relationship with our mental health.
Last winter, I saw Air Force One footprints ingrained in the snow during my walk to school. The winter before that, it was Vans, and the one before that was Converse. Every year brings with it a trend that we unconsciously demand ourselves to follow. As humans, we are programmed to form connections with each other, and the easiest way to do this is through a degree of mimicry. This mimicry ranges from something as subtle as the shoes we wear to our everyday mannerisms. The psychological name for this behavior is the Chameleon Effect, which refers to when “… one’s behavior passively and unintentionally changes to match that of others in one’s current social environment” (Chartrand and Bargh 1). That is why it is important to surround yourself with people you admire, because eventually, you turn into a spin-off of them. Our well being becomes negatively affected when we reach our maximum point of subconscious mimicry and move into a state of awareness. From here we are presented with two options: fully assimilate or die. Just kidding, but it can feel that way. For teenagers especially, there is an urgency to fit in, which is why the media places significant emphasis on having a unique voice or perspective. In reality, it can be hard to express yourself without coming off as too different or unnatural. Oftentimes it is easier to assimilate rather than searching for that perfect balance. In other words, the phrase “just be yourself” presents a contradiction because we find ourselves through each other.
However, there is beauty in this process. While the Chameleon Effect does put pressure on us to live up to a given standard, it is also what enables us to confide in each other during hard times. It provides the mindset for us to know just what to say when a friend is down, which comfort food to bring after a long day, or how often to check in to ensure someone is doing okay. Our common experiences allow us to relate with each other during moments of weakness and provide helpful solutions. The Chameleon Effect thrives off of empathy. We are able to collaborate and make meaningful connections with others because we see ourselves through them. This is unintentionally the foundation of what makes us open up to strangers or form our closest relationships.
The Chameleon Effect can make or break our mental health. When we feel ourselves giving in to it too much, our sense of identity feels threatened. We may go into a state of feeling lost or distant from our true selves. During those times is when what initially seemed like a fault, is actually what guides others toward helping us magnify our wellness. If there is one thing you take away from this article, please let it be this; the Chameleon effect enables us to be like everyone else, to be completely different, or to be a combination of the two, and that is okay.
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