Side by side, like oxen that go yoked . . . --Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio, Canto XII

. 1. "A non-learned neurobehavior in which members of a species act in a like manner" (Soukhanov 1993:135). 2. A deep, reptilian principle of mimicry, i.e., of copying, emulating, or aping a behavior, gesture, or fad. 3. An impulsive tendency to, e.g., a. stand and clap as audience members nearby stand and applaud, or b. wear the same style of jewelry, clothing, or shoes.

Usage I: Isopraxism explains why we dress like our colleagues and adopt the beliefs, customs, and mannerisms of the people we admire. Wearing the same team jersey or franchise cap to look alike suggests like thinking and feeling, as well. Appearing, behaving, and acting the same way makes it easier to be accepted, because "same is safe."

Usage II: The word isopraxis (Greek iso-, "same"; Greek praxis, "behavior") was introduced by the neuroanatomist Paul D. MacLean, who first used it in print in 1975 (see below, Word origin I). Examples include a. the simultaneous head-nodding of lizards, b. the group gobbling of turkeys, and c. the synchronous preening of birds. In human beings, isopraxism "is manifested in the hand-clapping of a theater audience and, on a larger scale, in historical mass migrations, in mass rallies, violence, and hysteria, and in the sudden widespread adoption of fashions and fads" (Soukhanov 1993:135).


Imitation. " 'Because "imitation" is such a "loaded" word in the social and behavioral sciences, commonly implying "conscious" learning or mimicking, I shall avoid it in the context of experimental work, referring instead to isopraxis, or isopraxic behaviour, meaning performance of the same kind of behaviour' " (MacLean, quoted in Soukhanov 1995:90).

A personal reflection. I've just learned that human infants (neonates) are able to imitate index-finger-extension gestures. "These imitation/initiation cycles developed into an overlapping communication sequence, the laboratory model of the first 'dialogue'. This finding therefore suggests that early imitative dialogues in a natural setting help infants to master communicative turn-taking and to engage in long 'conversations' long before language appears." (Source: Nagy, E., Compagne, H., Orvos, H., Pal, A., Molnar, P., Janszky, I., Loveland, K., and G. Bardos (2005). "Index Finger Movement Imitation by Human Neonates: Motivation, Learning, and Left-Hand Preference." Pediatric Research (Vol. 58), pp. 749-53. [ (accessed June 10, 2016)]

Media I. Media advertisements (e.g., of famous athletes drinking sodas, or eating hamburgers) enhance the sales of consumer products--and demonstrate the persuasive force of "monkey see, monkey do." 1. One of the most dramatic isopraxic events in history was featured as a "Classic Moment" by Life magazine (1990). The two-page photograph by Ken Regan of the Moon Wedding (January 1983) shows parallel rows of 2,074 white-clad brides (all wearing Simplicity pattern No. 8392 gowns), and 2,074 dark-suited men, standing with serious (i.e., blank face) expressions in Madison Square Garden, waiting to be joined in the largest mass wedding on Earth. 2. "And as Princess Grace of Monaco following her April 1956 wedding to Prince Rainier, this well-bred Philadelphia Sagirl (1929-1982) was so adored that when she held a large Herm bag over her belly to discretely conceal her first pregnancy, the purse became an enduring status item, known as the Kelly bag" (Sporkin 2000:140).

Media II. "Instinct and Emotion," a new CD from the San Francisco based project Lefthandeddecision, features a 33 minute long selection, "Isopraxism," which, according to reviews, "could very well stand as a release of its own."

Painting. Nowhere is isopraxism better exemplified than by Western Civilization's Cubist art tradition, founded by French painter Georges Braque (1882-1963) and Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) in 1907, with the latter's oil painting, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. (Picasso and Braque were influenced by the flattened-perspective painting style of French artist Paul Cezanne [1839-1906] exemplified in Cezanne's 1895 oil-on-canvas Bibemus Quarry.) Cubist paintings show flattened, fragmented perspectives with intersecting lines and angles, flattened planes; squared-off, triangular, and rounded shapes; and abstract, solid-geometric forms such as spheres, cylinders, and cones. Abruptly, from 1907 onward, Cubist-imitative art and architecture flourished.

Salesmanship. "You lead the prospect by starting closer to his posture and expression, and then gradually becoming more relaxed" (Delmar 1984:44).

Synchrony. ". . . the speech, body motion and bioelectric activity in a normal speaker appeared to display synchronous patterns of change. The person listening also displays patterns of change of body motion and bioelectric activity which seem to be harmonious with those of the speaker" (Condon and Ogston 1966:234; see DANCE).

Word origin I. "Isopraxis is the coinage of neuroanatomist Paul D. MacLean, M.D., the retired chief, Laboratory of Brain Evolution and Behavior, National Institute of Mental Health, now a senior scientist there. His word first appeared in print in 1975 in his piece 'The Imitative-Creative Interplay of Our Three Mentalities,' in Astride the Two Cultures. Arthur Koestler at 70 (H. Harris, ed.)" (Soukhanov 1995:90).

Word origin II. "As you read the word isopraxism, you are watching a preexisting word, isopraxis, undergo initial transformation into a variant spelling. The longevity of the new variant cannot yet be predicted. David B. Givens, director of academic relations at the American Anthropological Association, used the -m; this variant spelling first appeared in the nontechnical media in a United Press International story dated March 24, 1981. In an interview with me, Dr. Givens remarked that the -m spelling, commonly seen in the literature of anthropology, is 'more for the ordinary reader, as opposed to isopraxis, which is better understood by science types. . . . With the -m spelling, ordinary people might be inclined to use the word more'" (Soukhanov 1995:90).

E-Commentary: "David, in the area of isopraxism, I have found that getting people to breathe at the same rate, blink at the same rate, head nod, and do other gestures at the same time is very effective in establishing effective communication. And that just happens to be my definition of a good, productive interview." --Joe Navarro, Special Agent, FBI (8/7/01 5:52:00 PM Pacific Daylight Time)

RESEARCH REPORTS: 1. "Doing the same thing" is a powerful bonding agent in courtship; e.g., in the Canada goose: ". . . the female responding to him with the same actions that he makes" (Ogilvie 1978:100). 2. "The chameleon effect refers to nonconscious mimicry of the postures, mannerisms, facial expressions, and other behaviors of one's interaction partners, such that one's behavior passively and unintentionally changes to match that of others in one's current social environment" (Chartrand and Bargh 1999:893). 3. Research has shown a. that our motor behavior unintentionally matches that of strangers with whom we work on tasks, b. that mimicking the postures and movements of others facilitates interaction and increases liking, and c. that "dispositionally empathic" people exhibit the chameleon effect more than do less empathic individuals (Chartrand and Bargh 1999).


Neuro-notes I. Our tendency to imitate clothing styles and to pick up the nonverbal mannerisms of others is rooted in paleocircuits of the reptilian brain. "The major counterpart of the reptilian forebrain in mammals includes the corpus striatum (caudate plus putamen), globus pallidus, and peripallidal structures [including the substantia innominata, basal nucleus of Meynert, nucleus of the ansa peduncularis, and entopeduncular nucleus]" (MacLean 1975:75).

Neuro-notes II. Mirror neurons: In the early 1990s, mirror neurons were discovered in the premotor cerebral cortex of macaque monkeys. Vittorio Gallese, Giacomo Rizzolatti, and colleagues at the University of Parma, Italy, identified neurons that activate when monkeys perform certain hand movements (such as picking up fruit)--and also fire when monkeys watch others perform the same hand movements. In The Imitative Mind (2002), Andrew Meltzoff uses mirror neurons to explain how human newborns from 42 minutes to 72 hours old (mean = 32 hours) can imitate adult facial acts (tongue protrusion, lip protrusion, mouth opening, eye blinking, cheek and brow movements, and components of emotional expressions), head movements, and hand gestures. Human mirror neurons have been located in Brodmann's area 44 (Broca's area) of the brain's cerebral cortex.

Neuro-notes III. Mirror neurons: "I propose that young infants' fundamental recognition of others as 'like me' provides a connection to others that is used to bootstrap learning about intentions, emotions, perspectives, and other minds." (Source: Andrew Meltzoff, from his abstract for the 2012 conference on "Mirror Neurons: New Frontiers 20 Years After Their Discovery")

Neuro-notes IV. Mirror neurons: According to Joseph Jaffe of Columbia University, mirror neurons ". . . have now been found to be distributed across the entire motor homunculus (that previously was thought to be simply a motor-control region). However, MRI studies show that these neurons are also 'sensory,' i.e., they respond to the passive observation of specific goal-directed movements of mouth, hand or foot when performed by another person."

Neuro-notes V. Mirror neurons: In the context of our nonverbal communication, mirror neurons provide brain circuitry that enables us--intuitively--to decode and understand the meaning of unspoken signs, signals, and cues. When we see a hand gesture, for instance, or hear an angry voice tone, mirror neurons set up a motor template, a prototype or blueprint in our own brain, that allows us to mimic the particular hand gesture or vocal tone. Additionally, through links to the limbic system, there are mirror neurons to help us decode emotional nuances and meanings of the hand gestures we see and the tones of voice we hear. We are seemingly wired to interpret the nonverbal actions of others as if we ourselves had enacted them.

YouTube Video: Watch a short video on mirror neurons and empathy.

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