Brain Game: Tendency to Mimic Behavior Can Lead to Positive Change

A recent episode of “Brain Games” featured a social experiment on human behavior. They staged a waiting room where everyone (except one person, the subject) was instructed to stand up every time they heard a beeping noise.Brains

After only a few beeps, the subject began standing up with the rest. She was not rewarded or instructed to do so, but she did it anyway. Slowly all the other participants left the waiting room, leaving only the subject. She kept standing at the beep. Then as new subjects entered the waiting area, all but one person mimicked her behavior and stood at each beep.

We humans are funny creatures. We have a natural tendency to go along with the crowd. Perhaps wanting to fit in is a survival mechanism, or maybe it is a social thing. Regardless, the fact is that even without logical reason we will conform to the environment and behaviors around us. We see it in residents demanding clothing protectors, even thought they never used them before. We see residents head back to their rooms after the evening meal and, at the call light, race to go to bed even though they used to enjoy staying up in the evenings. Could this be an anchor that has held long-term care in its institutional mindset?

Doing what everyone else does is a powerful human trait, but maybe we can use this tendency to create positive change. If people are so strongly driven to replicate the behaviors they are exposed to, then let’s give them some positive behaviors to grab ahold. And this goes for staff, families and residents alike. Look at an objective in your daily environment. What behaviors are mimicked by others? Are they positive ones? Are we building people up or tearing them down? The good news I see in the Brain Game experiment is that even when just one person exhibited a behavior, those around joined in. So it only takes one person to get something positive started.

We have the opportunity to use this human trait to make change, to plant seeds for positive behaviors and actions. If those around join in and behave the way we behave, then we can be a catalyst for change. However, we must be very consistent and aware of how others see us. If we are positive and supportive sometimes, and grumpy and talk about others behind their backs at other times, which behavior will others most likely repeat? Try playing some brain games of your own, and present those around you with positive behaviors. At the same time be very conscious of any negative behaviors you may be conforming to and speak up about them.