The power of models and modeling

Last week as I walked home from the University of New England, I saw large green garden-debris bins in front of three houses next to mine. I felt an urge to put my bin out even though I was sure it was the wrong week. I looked in my bin and confirmed that its contents had been emptied recently. The next day I saw that the three green bins in front of the other homes had not been emptied. One neighbor set a model, and two others followed the model.

Models can have powerful effects on human behavior. Children learn to speak their native language by observing models who make certain sounds and benefit in one way or another from making those sounds. Professional female models, those impossibly tall, thin, and attractive women we see on runways or in magazines, make a living because consumers want to buy what they wear. Celebrities get paid to wear a certain type of sports shoe or watch. Good models make us want things!

A current pal of mine frequently uses emoticons in messages to me. Now I use them. 😀

Models can lead us astray. When I was in high school, a friend of mine used the expression “Ain’t it” to express agreement. I copied that behavior for a few months.

Models can also induce us to buy clothes and other items that we do not need. Advertising commonly uses extraordinarily attractive models.

Why do we copy the behavior of others? One answer is that the behavior and consequences of the behavior provide us with valuable information. Another answer is that copying the behaviour of another person can give us a positive emotional charge and help us feel more like the model and more closely connected to the model.

Some models influence our behavior more than others. The most potent models, according to research findings, are prestigious, liked by us, similar to us, and do something that pays off for them. I once climbed Mt. Warning with my family. As I was going up, I saw a group of teens run up. They seemed so happy (so superior!) that I felt a desire to run up a mountain myself. I now have my eyes on Mt. Tomaree for that

When I teach psychology students at the University of New England, I advise them how to how to deal with a client in crisis: Set a model of calm problem-solving behaviour. At other times, a therapist might want to set an upbeat model. If the therapist wants to teach a client to be more assertive, the therapist describes the target behavior and then models it.

Parents carry a heavy responsibility with regard to modelling. If they use a curse word, they can expect to hear their child utter the same word. If they smoke, the odds are good that their children will take up the habit.

On the positive side, parents can use modelling to teach their children to show desirable behaviors such as good manners, empathy, and kindness.

Are you modeling behavior you want to see in others?


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