Hipster effect: why do nonconformists end up looking alike?

Who I am
Louise Hay


Author and references

Are you one of those people who always say what they think or do you prefer to keep your opinions in tune with the crowd? There are those who feel comfortable following the group. They buy what others buy, they crave what others crave and are influenced by the opinions of others. Others, on the other hand, feel uncomfortable following the flock. They want to stand out. They are fed up with that homogeneity that obscures us as unique people.

These people, called nonconformists, have a strong need for uniqueness. They experience a psychological state in which they feel indistinguishable from others, this motivates compensatory acts that allow them to re-establish the sense of uniqueness.

Then, in an outburst of rebellion, they make decisions that are very different from those dictated by the rules. But sooner or later they will discover that those decisions are actually much less original than they thought because, being shared by other nonconformist people, they end up becoming a fad.

What is the Hipster Effect?

The hipster effect, or nonconformist effect, refers to a counterintuitive phenomenon whereby people who oppose the dominant culture end up looking the same, as they make very similar decisions. In practice, the compensatory action to recover individuality ends up leading them to undifferentiation. In this way, the claiming decision loses strength, transforming itself into a fashion that traps them in the scenario from which they wanted to escape.

How is the hipster effect produced?

Brandeis University researchers analyzed how people's behavior affects the way information is transmitted on a social level. Thus they came to the conclusion that our company is made up of two large groups:

  1. The conformists, who copy others and follow rules, are people who feel uncomfortable with novelty and prefer to make decisions that others have tested before.
  2. The nonconformists, who seek to change the rules and apparently separate from social trends by reasserting themselves as people with their own identity.

The problem is, by opposing the mainstream, most mavericks end up looking similar. At first the nonconformists act randomly, but as information spreads, other people who identify with this way of thinking make the same decisions and a synchronization takes place that transforms the one into the same, the cry of protest into trend, the revolution in restoration. Hence, this action loses its vindictive character to turn into following the masses.

A clear example was the first hipsters, who let their beards grow to differentiate themselves from the men who followed the rules and always showed themselves perfectly shaved. So are those who, rejecting mass fashion, chose to dress in vintage clothes. Today those cries of rebellion have become the new fashion, ceasing to be a sign of originality.

The dangers of conformity

We tend to think that being conformists and following the crowd is the safest choice. We think that the feeling of discomfort in being the only dissidents motivates us to conform to alleviate this discomfort. In some cases this is the case. However, psychologists at the University of Buffalo discovered that conformity actually causes enormous psychological and physiological damage.

These researchers put people in different scenarios. In some cases these people were able to assert their individuality and openly disagree, while in other cases they had to adapt to the political opinion of the group.

They discovered that in the people assigned to the "conformist group", who could not express their disagreement, a cardiovascular threat response was activated characterized by low cardiac output and high total peripheral resistance. In other words: when they had to bow to opinions with which they disagreed, self-confidence diminished and they felt threatened, which triggered an anxious reaction.

On the contrary, the people assigned to the "nonconformist group", who could defend their ideas, lived the experience in a positive, stimulating and invigorating way.

The study indicates that: “When people's goal was to be accepted into a group they disagreed with, their cardiovascular responses showed a state of psychological threat. Conversely, when the goal was to be an independent individual within a group that disagreed with their ideas, the cardiovascular responses were consistent with those of a challenge.

“It is true that these people had to strive to achieve their goal, but when we experience a challenge we feel rather empowered than overwhelmed. We have a tendency to focus on what we can gain instead of what we can lose ”.

This confirms that living continuously subjected to the rules, silencing our opinion so as not to clash, not only makes us lose our individuality, but also makes us live permanently in a threatening scenario that will end up damaging our health.

How to escape the hipster effect?

Jonathan Touboul, the researcher who coined the term hipster effect, indicates that we are more likely to end up looking like others when facing binary decisions. With a beard or without a beard? iPhone or Android? Trendy or vintage clothes?

It basically means that this nonconformity is superficial because it continues to be determined by the options offered by society, which are generally in terms of good or bad, black or white, right or left, good or bad (dualism). These actions of personal reaffirmation are like the rebellion of a slave who has not yet freed himself from the yoke because he continues to move within the limits of the freedom granted him.

The German philosopher Max Stirner offers us two fundamental ideas that will allow us to escape the hipster effect:

  1. Know yourself. “Let go of your self-righteous efforts, that foolish mania of being something else that you are not. Know yourself, ”he said. We need to understand that we are unique and learn to value ourselves for who we are, aware of our authentic needs and desires. It is an inner journey in search of that essence that has probably remained buried under social expectations, which in one way or another, we have made our own but lead us to develop limited dichotomous thinking.
  2. Set Yourself Free. "All freedom is, in the full sense of the word, essentially self-liberation," wrote Stirner. When you know yourself, accept and appreciate yourself for who you are, a paradoxical change takes place, because you no longer feel the imperative need to show this nonconformity to the world, to assert yourself as an individual. Authentic freedom implies an inner liberation. We know what we are worth and this is enough for us, so we stop feeling the need to continually prove it.


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