April 2, 2007 / 9:36 PM / 12 years ago

It's predictable -- we're all copycats

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Think you’re a trendsetter? Chances are, you’re actually just another copycat.

A team of researchers in the United States and Britain have found that what’s in and what’s out changes at a predictably consistent rate and most people are simply copycats when it comes to popular culture.

“People like to think they’re innovative or looking for the hot new thing,” said Dr. Carl Lipo of California State University, Long Beach.

“In fact, the effect is, they’re just choosing based on the frequency of possibilities they encounter,” the co-author of the study added in an interview.

How parents select the name for their child or the breed of their pet is very different, according to the researchers.

“Yet we found that the pattern of change is amazingly similar,” said Lipo.

The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, examined a Billboard Top 200 chart and found that the monthly average number of albums entering and exiting the chart stayed at a fixed rate of 5.6 percent over a 30-year period, despite the different ways people can access music today.

Similar results were found when baby names from 1860 to the present documented by the U.S. Social Security Administration were examined.

The scientists also found that the speed of change depends on the number of choices — the more options, the quicker trends come and go.

But population size had no impact. A bigger population brings more new ideas but it also means greater competition, so the two variables balance each other.

Predicting what will actually be popular is a game of chance.

Celebrities are copied more, but it is change itself that is in demand, more or less regardless of content, according to Dr. Alex Bentley, the lead author of the study from Durham University in England.

“Madonna knows this — staying on top for two decades by changing her image constantly,” he said in a statement.

Only about two percent or less of the population are considered innovators, or people who set the trends.

Lipo believes innovation rate may be the most critical variable in the long run.

“We’d like to think we’re making all these really great rational choices and directing change, but an enormous amount of what we do is random copying,” he said.

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