My friends and I have shared a lot over the years: dorm rooms and apartments, stories of high school crushes and every little detail of the date one of us went on, and cover letters via Google Docs. Over time, we’ve even adopted one another’s mannerisms and language quirks… without necessarily being able to pinpoint how or why. (Case in point: I regularly say, “Y’all,” even though I grew up in Pennsylvania.) According to psychology, we’ve all been unintentionally blending our quirks and camouflaging with one another á la the chameleon effect.
A peculiar phenomenon of social psychology, the chameleon effect “describes the unconscious tendency most people have of mimicking, or mirroring, another person’s facial expressions, non-verbal behaviors, and verbal expression,” says licensed counselor Suzanne Degges-White, PhD, LCPC, NPC. (To be clear, we’re talking about the kind of mimicking that happens unintentionally; by contrast, plenty of people use intentional mimicry as a form of manipulation, which is not the same thing as the chameleon effect.)
Much like the term’s eponymous creatures can change their colors, we tend to unconsciously shape-shift our mannerisms to match those with whom we’re interacting in a social environment—and as we become more like them, they become more like us.
Within close friendships and relationships, that effect can ramp up ov