Copycat Personality Disorder (Does it Exist?)

In this article, we will discuss Copycat Personality Disorder and explain whether it exists and in what forms. We will do that by describing different types of copying behavior, copycat syndrome, the levels at which copying behavior exists, possible reasons for it, and how to cope with a copycat.

Copycat Personality Disorder 

Many people have come across individuals in their life that have replicated or copied their behavior more than a normal degree. This brings to our mind whether such copying behavior is a personality disorder or a clinical condition. So far, research into it has not revealed a clinical condition of copycat personality disorder nor is there any documentation about the personality profile of copycats.

However, imitation and copying behavior does take place in our life on a regular basis within a normal range. There are different inter-related concepts linked to it. These include observational learning, imitative learning, mirroring, and echopraxia.  We shall describe each type and explain situations when such copying behavior goes out of hand and how to cope with such people as follows.

What is copying or copycat behavior?

Copying or imitating someone is usually considered a form of flattery since it gives the idea that you think highly of the person you are trying to imitate. Although being copied can be pleasing for some people but sometimes it can take the form of over-imitation and becomes too much, overwhelming, and difficult to handle. In common everyday language, behavior that involves copying or imitating someone’s behavior is labeled copycat behavior. Copying behavior can come in many forms. Different terms and versions of it exist. These include the following:

Imitation/Overimitation/Observational Learning

These three terms are often used interchangeably with each other but they describe the same thing. They are a form of learning that occurs when we observe and copy the behavior of others. Its concept was first given by Albert Bandura. For such learning to take place, one needs a social model such as a parent, a teacher, or someone who is an authority figure. 

The individual learns acceptable and unacceptable behavior from imitating the model and the consequences they face. If their behavior is rewarded, it is more likely that the individual would replicate it. However, if it is punished and not considered positive, it is likely that the individual would decrease showing that behavior.

Such behavior usually starts in our childhood where we learn by watching our parents (as models) and continues throughout life with different models. It is considered a universal phenomenon. Observational learning is different from imitation since that involves exact replication of a model’s behavior. According to John Dewy, One imitation is mimicry where the exact action is repeated again. It is a passive form of imitation. Whereas, another imitation is more active and done with a purpose after learning the possible consequences.

If we apply the same concept to copycats, it could be that such people continue this behavior in adulthood. Especially if they see any model/person in their environment to be rewarded for their behavior. Thus, imitative behavior is repeated to increase the likelihood of success in their own life.  

Echopraxia/Echolalia 

Echopraxia is the repetition or imitation of another person’s actions, similar to Echolalia which is the repetition of sounds and language of another person. This occurs at an involuntary level and is automatic. It usually occurs in psychological conditions like autism, schizophrenia, aphasia, catatonia, people with frontal lobe damage, etc.

Mirroring 

Mirroring refers to an unconscious imitation of gestures, speech, and attitude of another person, In short, we unknowingly imitate the non-verbal behavior of others. The purpose usually is to build rapport or show empathy to another person. It is different from conscious imitation or copying behavior.

Copycat Syndrome-First Occurance and theory

In 1982, a case of fatal poisonings took place that involved the usage of Tylenol. This followed up by the occurrence of a few non-fatal cases. Psychologists and psychiatrists labeled this behavior as a copycat syndrome. It is possible that the emotions of fear or anger were triggered in copycats. Another possibility is that these people were not emotionally developed and needed a channel to let out their negative emotions. Criminals like these may rely on others to instruct and direct their life. However, the exact theory of what copycat syndrome is, how it works, which people are more vulnerable to it, what personality type it is, etc, has not been figured out scientifically or theoretically.

A detailed analysis of the personality profile of copycats has not been done either since there is a scarcity of scientific data. A possibility of repetition of criminal acts may mean that the individuals doing it are more likely to be impulsive and may have anti-social traits. Another possibility is that these copycat criminals crave attention, acknowledgment, and fame, which may motivate their behavior.

Levels of Copying / CopyCat behavior

Behavior that involves imitating someone can come in various forms. These include the following:

Copying at an everyday level

This form of copying takes place when someone imitates another person with a flattering aspect associated with it. It includes everyday copy behavior that takes place with our family and friends. E.g you like your friend’s dress, compliment her and buy the same one. Similarly, you try to get into someone’s good books by acting more like them. In the same way, you buy the same products you see when you visit someone’s house, etc. These behaviors are harmless with no serious ill intention behind them.

Copying at cultural Level

In some cases, cultures who are minorities act more like cultures who are a majority. For example, Minority eastern cultures may imitate Western cultures. Similarly, a person who comes from a minority culture when visiting another country may act more like them in order to fit in. Here, the advantage or intent behind copying is to fit in.

Copying at an educational level

This type of copying takes place when we copy someone who is intellectually superior to us. The intention may be to learn from someone who has more knowledge and skills than us.

Copying at individual/personality level

Some copy behavior may occur at the individual level especially if the intent is to imitate someone in order to establish a social connection with them or to try to make someone more comfortable. This can be because when we are around people who are similar to us, we get more comfortable.

Another copying behavior that occurs is at the level of body language and is also called mirroring. In this, we copy the body language, posture, tone, expressions, etc of another person. We may do this consciously or unconsciously. The reasons for doing so can be positive or negative but they do play a role in making the chance of a social connection to establish increase.

For example, if someone is upset, sitting with a huddled body posture, looking down, talking in a low tone, and has sad expressions. The person listening to him would be able to connect with him more if he/she shows the same body language and tone. So, when he/she matches the energy of the other person, it would be highly likely that the person would connect with him unlike in another case when the other person is loud, energetic, and happy.

Another copying that takes place at an individual level can be more negative in nature. This can have an underlying negative intent or even if the intent is positive, it is taken so far that it makes the other person uncomfortable. An example of this would be when a person copies your physical appearance including haircut, clothes, shoes, tone, and manner of speaking. They might also copy your mannerisms and habits. 

In some cases, they may try to form connections with your friends, family, and even start stealing your ideas. In these cases, the situation may seem like the other person is trying to steal your identity. Overall such copycat behavior can range from mild to extreme forms. So, unless it starts to affect your life, it can be harmless and possibly someone trying to flatter you and trying to be your friend.

Reasons for copycat behavior

There can be many reasons why a person imitates someone else. Most of them are positive but we shall discuss reasons where copycat behavior goes to an extreme. These include:

  • A person is envious of someone else, their success, and overall life. They want to understand the secret behind it, so they copy them in order to achieve the same level of success.
  • Copycat behavior may come from a place of low self-esteem. People who are insecure in themselves may believe that others are better than them and trust their judgment and manner of approaching life more. It could be that they dislike who they are and feel like they can escape if they start acting like someone else.
  • Another reason for copycat behavior may come from obsession. This can come to extremes and become dangerous. For example, stalking, obsession with celebrities, etc.

How to cope with a copycat

There are various strategies one can try to cope with a copycat. These include the following:

  • Announce your ideas. If you are worried your ideas will be stolen. Keep the initial planning of ideas to yourself and, announce it to others when you are ready, to prevent them from being copied
  • Communicate with the copycat directly. It could be that there is some level of misunderstanding. Have an open discussion with them about how you have noticed uncanny similarities. Ask them what their intent is and how this makes you feel. There is a high chance, once it is out in the open, the behavior would most probably decrease.
  • Pay compliments to the copycat that are unique to them. Make them feel like they are worthy by themselves and do not need to rely on others to be unique.
  • Do not get too emotionally invested and aggravated when you see someone copy you. It is understandable when someone feels frustrated due to it but many times if you keep your calm and ignore it, such situations die down with the passage of time. Reacting emotionally would not help in resolving matters. If the situation continues, you may try the above-suggested strategies.

FAQs: Copycat Personality Disorder

What is copycat behavior?

Copycat behavior is when we imitate or copy the behavior of others. It is different from observational learning where we adopt those behaviors that have been rewarded and decrease behaviors that have been punished.

Is copying someone rude?

Copying or imitating someone is usually considered a form of flattery since it gives the idea that you think highly of the person you are trying to imitate. Although being copied can be pleasing for some people but sometimes it can take the form of over-imitation and becomes too much, overwhelming, and difficult to handle.

Is mirroring manipulative?

Yes and No. Mirroring is usually unconscious and done to build rapport or show empathy to another person. It is different from conscious imitation or copying behavior in which mirroring can be manipulative to get personal benefits from another person by getting into their good books.

Conclusion

In this article, we discussed Copycat Personality Disorder. We found that there is no clinical condition of copycat personality disorder nor is there any documentation about the personality profile of copycats. However, imitation and copying behavior does take place in our life on a regular basis within a normal range.

There are different inter-related concepts linked to it including observational learning, imitative learning, mirroring, and echopraxia/echolalia.  We described each type and explained situations when such copying behavior goes out of hand, reasons for it, and how to cope with such people.

 I hope you found this article interesting. If you have any queries or comments, please state them in the comment section 😊

Citations

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observational_learning#Comparisons_with_imitation

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Echopraxia#:~:text=Echopraxia%20(also%20known%20as%20echokinesis,actions%20without%20explicit%20awareness%22).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirroring

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/337556403_Overimitation_across_Development_the_influence_of_individual_and_contextual_factors

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100503135705.htm

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