Thursday, September 8, 2011

Copycat Suicides are Worth a Study!

Did you know that most of our behavior is on auto-pilot? What we do, what we say and even what we think is stuck in well established patterns. Did you ever wonder why change is so difficult? (If you haven't, then you didn't really try to change something about yourself.)

How we act depends on a large number of factors. Let's take a quick look at two of them.

(1) Habits
Our decision making is based on a complex structure of conscious, but mostly unconscious, patterns of behavior? One reason it's hard to make changes is simply due to habits. We tend to repeat what we've done successfully in the past. Unfortunately, what used to be successful behavior quickly turns into bad habits, or what we may call self defeating behaviors.

(2) Copycat
However, the one thing I'd like to highlight this time is our tendency to copy the behavior of others, especially the people we identify with. Have you ever witnessed close friends adopting the same kind of laughter? Or have you seen the example of a charismatic leader replicate to an organization? That's what I'm talking about. Are we affected by the same? Absolutely! ...and more than you know.

Based on research that indicates the most fatal examples, I'd like to share one: Copycat suicides! Statistics seem to imply that if journalists are not careful, the headlines in the news can have a powerful impact on its readers. If readers identify themselves with someone who has committed suicide and made it to the front page they will be inclined to follow suit. Copycat suicide is a fairly well documented phenomenon.

The same goes for many other regular news posts. In Norway the media is currently struggling with the ongoing temptation of making a serial story out of the heinous act of terror at Utøya (use Google translate to read in English). There's a fine line between reporting news and falling victim to someone's desire to exploit the press for needed attention. We ought to ask ourselves; is this behavior we would like to dwell on with the risk of duplication?

So what can we learn from this? A great number of things. Habits and self defeating behaviors are a subject of their own. When it comes to copying the behavior of others, here are three suggestions:
  1. Be aware who you identify yourself with.
  2. Decide on behavior you would like to adopt, and what not to adopt.
  3. Be careful and on the alert! How? Identify your values and put your focus where it belongs.

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