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What Is The ‘Chameleon Effect’ And How Is It Impacting Your Social Interactions?

If ‘chameleoning’ is based upon mutable social relations, to what extent is this distinct from people pleasing behaviour?

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The foundations of social interactions are constructed by the behaviors of introverts and extroverts, how we integrate and communicate with people, and how our actions are received. The ‘chameleon effect’ has been explored as an extension of this – also known as ‘self-monitoring’ – the chameleon effect involves tailoring your personality to correlate to varying social situations. As performed by the animal, the chameleon will shape its behavior to appease and accommodate its surrounding environment. At its core, it indulges in the inherent desires of people-pleasers, however, there are also some benefits to adopting this behavior. 

Chameleoning involves mimicking other people’s behavior in hopes of aligning yourself with their personality, in hopes of honoring their desires. Whilst this may seem a way for people-pleasers to excuse their habits, mimicking has proven to increase positive feelings between you and the person you intend to mimic.

In increasing positive affirmation between the mimicked and the mimicker, a recent study by the SWPS University of Social Studies and Humanities confirmed the chameleon effect as ‘an effective technique of stereotype modification’; diversifying stereotypes. The study noted the increase in positivity in the relationship, as well as a notable improvement of the general ambiance, as well. 

Credit: Doloves / Shutterstock

Benefits of chameleon behavior include a heightened ability to adapt and remain flexible in social scenarios. Your behavior is mutable and therefore always tonally suitable from talking to your boss, to your younger sister.  It allows for a heightened sense of communication and an acute knowledge of social and behavioral cues. 

However, with a close correlation to people-pleasing, we must also question, how much does this enter onto the scale? Where do you start to lose track of your own personality, desires, and behaviors? 

‘True internal alignment’ is a phrase used to describe the diminishing of the distance between your ‘true’ self and the self you are when surrounded by friends, family, and social scenarios. This is the complete opposite phenomenon of chameleoning and goes so far to suggest that by achieving ‘true internal alignment’ you have succeeded in creating a harmonious balance within yourself – a concept that could not resonate with a chameleon. 

True internal alignment, therefore, rejections the benefits of chameleoning. However, PsychologyToday recognizes people that employ the chameleon effect as high-self monitors with a distinct awareness of how their behavior is received. It allows for adaptability, flexibility, and accommodation of other people’s preferences, boosting general morale. Research has considered the chameleon effect an art form and a powerful method of socialisation. 

Credit: Dmitry Demidovich / Shutterstock

If this sounds like a foreign concept to you, on the juxtaposing end of the scale is the zebra – because ‘a zebra does not change its stripes’. Zebras are low self-monitors who instinctively rely on their core identity to conduct their interactions, thereby employing identical conversation skills in each social scenario. Whilst this may insinuate a balance within one’s self, the ‘chameleon effect’ is not just a personality trait for some people, but also a coping mechanism used in society. 

As a lifeline for people with autism, the chameleon effect is not a matter of preference but a survival tool. A blog on Spectrumwomen.com, a website curated by, and dedicated to, autistic women, stated – ‘the chameleon factor is something that a lot of us [with autism] do because we want to fit in with the group and society in general’. 

Whilst the ‘chameleon effect’ is often associated with superficial and temporary behavior, the ability to adapt to different situations has never been a bad thing; in fact, it ensures survival.

An awareness of your position on the scale between chameleon and zebras can ensure the prevention of indulging solely in people-pleasing behavior without first considering your own preferences. 

Although creating a collage of varying communicators, a world between zebras and chameleons champions diversity, eclectic communities – and most importantly, interesting dinner parties.

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