Mirrors and Sheeple

You’ve probably seen a video on YouTube showing how people follow each other’s social cues. In the video, a hidden camera show hires a bunch of actors to sit in a doctor’s office and stand whenever a beep sound is played. One unwitting participant walks into the scene and begins to follow along with the other participants without understanding why. She’s just following what everyone else is doing.

This video goes along with the common “sheeple” idea that travels around. We have this idea reinforced by friends commenting on it in casual conversation, school teachers, and dweeb researchers alike.

Today I will do my best to stomp out that way of thinking and replace it with a new way to look at us humans.

First, the video.

This experiment relies on a human feature that allows us to communicate using body language and voice tone. In more subtle ways, your body feels inclined to return a smile, look where other people look, and even elevate your heartrate . It’s sometimes called “mirroring”.

Feeling like a “sheeple” attaches a sort of helpless feeling to your humanity. It doesn’t help you enjoy life or function as a member of society. You feel guilty about conforming whenever you notice that you did it “just because everyone else is doing it”. Some rebel against this feeling and try to stand out in unproductive ways. Which is why I am going to suggest a new way to look at cues.

You don’t have to believe this. I am only suggesting you try it next time you notice someone mirroring another person in any way.

Call it mirroring, like I do, and consider the beautiful things it adds to your identity as a human.

Suppose you travel to your favorite foreign city, but you don’t know the language yet. Smile at somebody, and they will mirror you by smiling back. Your words won’t matter.

If you drive a car, you’ve probably clued into an incoming emergency vehicle way before you heard it because you saw other drivers start to pull over. That’s the same feature that causes mirroring, and it saves lives.

The same feature allows you to intuit a person’s inner needs. When someone needs assistance but doesn’t vocalize it, you can often tell by their body language and save them the embarrassment of asking.

In the future, you can begin to notice the positive ways mirroring effects our world. Some of the individual parts are definitely bad. But the overall effect is a functioning society.