Word Watch

By Anne H. Soukhanov (October 1993)

isopraxism noun, a non-learned neurobehavior in which members of a species act in a like manner: "Dressing like your colleagues and neighbors dress 'reflects a deep reptilian behavior principle called "isopraxism,"' says [the research anthropologist David B.] Givens. Isopraxism involves mimicking,' he says. 'You're allies. You look alike, think alike. It's easier to be accepted if you look like others. "Same" is safe'" (Washington Post).

BACKGROUND: Isopraxism is a variant spelling—intended, Givens says, to appeal to nonscientific readers--of isopraxis, a word coined by the neuroanatomist Paul D. MacLean, who first used it in print in 1975. It is composed of the Greek prefix iso-, one sense of which is "uniform," and the Greek word praxis, one sense of which is "custom." Examples of isopraxis in the animal kingdom include the simultaneous head-nodding of female and juvenile lizards in response to a male's territorial display, and the group gobbling response of tom turkeys. Among human beings it 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. [10/93]

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