Picture this: You’re at a social gathering, eagerly awaiting to meet your close friend’s new romantic partner. When you finally do, you’re not just impressed — you’re attracted to your friend’s partner. This isn’t a mere coincidence; it’s a well-studied psychological occurrence known as mimetic desire.
What is Mimetic Desire?
The term “mimetic desire” was first introduced by French philosopher René Girard in the 1970s and thas been a subject of interest for psychologists and neuroscientists alike. But what exactly is mimetic desire, and how did it come to be a subject of such fascination?
Mimetic desire is a two-step psychological process. The first step is ‘mimesis,’ a term derived from the Greek word for imitation. Human beings are social creatures, and it’s in our nature to mimic or imitate those around us, whether consciously or subconsciously. This imitation can range from simple actions like laughing when others laugh to more complex behaviors like adopting career goals inspired by someone we admire.
The second step is where things get interesting. Once we’ve imitated someone, we often find ourselves wanting what they have or desire. This could be material possessions, social status, or even romantic partners. The key point is that our desires are not formed in isolation; they are shaped by the people we interact with, especially those we admire or envy.
Girard’s theory has been supported by various psychological studies, particularly those focusing on childhood development and social dynamics. Children, for instance, are more likely to desire a toy that another child is playing with, even if other toys are available. This early manifestation of mimetic desire indicates its deep-rooted nature in human psychology.
Moreover, Girard’s concept has found applications beyond psychology. It has been used to analyze social conflicts, market dynamics, and even religious rituals. The idea that our desires are not entirely our own, but rather influenced by those around us, has profound implications for understanding human behavior and societal structures.
Neuroscience Behind Mimetic Desire
When it comes to mimetic desire, the brain plays a more significant role than you might think. When you find yourself attracted to your friend’s partner, it’s not merely a random occurrence. It’s a complex interplay of neurotransmitters and neural circuits in your brain.
One of the key players in this process is dopamine, a neurotransmitter often referred to as the “feel-good hormone.” When you desire something that someone else has, your brain releases dopamine, giving you a sense of pleasure or reward. This is part of the brain’s reward system, a group of neural pathways that manage and control behavior by inducing pleasurable effects.
Additionally, specific areas of the brain are activated during the experience of mimetic desire. One such area is the mirror neuron system, a collection of cells that fire both when an individual performs an action and when they observe the same action performed by another. This system plays a crucial role in imitation, helping us understand and mimic the behavior and desires of others.
Another critical area is the brain valuation system, which helps us assess the value of different options and make decisions accordingly. When you’re attracted to your friend’s partner, this system kicks in to evaluate how much you value that attraction compared to the potential risks, such as harming your friendship.
The Ethical Dilemma
While the initial attraction may seem harmless, even flattering, the ethical implications of acting on mimetic desire are far-reaching and complex. At the core of the issue is the question of loyalty and trust, two pillars that form the foundation of any meaningful friendship or relationship.
When you like your friend’s partner, you’re stepping into a tricky area that involves more than just you. If you act on this feeling, you could hurt your friendship and maybe even your friend’s relationship. This could make things awkward or tense among your other friends too.
Moreover, mimetic desire isn’t limited to romantic or sexual attraction. It can manifest in various aspects of life, such as career ambitions, lifestyle choices, and even health behaviors. For example, if a friend achieves success in a particular career, you might find yourself wanting to switch professions, not because you’re genuinely interested, but because you desire the recognition and status that come with that job. This can lead to dissatisfaction and a sense of unfulfillment in your own life, as you’re pursuing something not out of personal interest, but out of a mimetic desire.
So, the next time you find yourself wanting what someone else has, take a moment. Ask yourself if it’s worth it. Most times, it’s better to focus on what makes your own life good, rather than wanting what someone else has.
Understanding this can help you keep your friendships strong and make smarter choices in life.