Who do you go to when you’re lost and in need of guidance? Who do you take inspiration from when picking an outfit for a date night? Who do you draw strength from when you’re facing a new challenge?
As social creatures, humans mimic a lot of the behaviours we are exposed to. It is not unusual to aspire to be like people we know; in fact, it can be healthy. Vicarious reinforcement is a social learning theory, which entails that people are more likely to display a specific behaviour after already observing others perform them. For example, when I was ten, and Selena Gomez got side bangs, I immediately did the same.A role model is someone who influences and leads others by example. This can be a celebrity, a world leader, a teacher, a family member or even just your peers. Role models can help depict how we would like to fit into the world by shaping many of our behaviour and decisions.
Positive role models are essential at every stage in life: from navigating childhood to developing an identity in adolescent years, to chasing your dreams in adulthood. For instance, children tend to mimic the beliefs and behaviours of their parents. If a child’s parents are smokers, then he/she is more likely to take up smoking, than a child whose parents do not smoke. Likewise, if a child grows up with parents who are avid readers and learners, then the child will be more likely to engage in such activities. In these examples, the parents are the child’s role models and through vicarious reinforcement, the child acquires similar traits and behaviours.
As we age, we are more conscious of where we pick up certain qualities. We develop our own tastes and are thus able to decide on how we would like to be and how we would like to act. We begin actively choosing role models—a selection process that is based on what we perceive as praiseworthy.
Often, we select role models based on our definition of success. When a person has done something we deem as successful, we tend to regard them as having admirable and valuable qualities that we ourselves would like to emulate. For example, I was inspired by the late actress, Audrey Hepburn, for her humanitarian work. Due to this initial admiration, I began to pay more attention to who she was; I observed her fashion, her mannerisms and her films. I was able to visualize the type of person I wanted to be through her: a kind, hard-working, positive woman. My fascination with Audrey not only determined how I sought to present myself (i.e. a well-spoken, elegant woman), but I was also exposed to new things, such as black and white films and even the history of Rome, thanks to her movies.
Throughout my journey in high school and university, whenever I was faced with a challenge I thought to myself, “how would Audrey handle this?” I found inspiration from her resiliency, dedication and courage as she faced numerous travesties throughout her life. From Audrey, I learned how to overcome obstacles and stay strong in my commitment to my hopes and dreams.
Physiology professor at the University of Mississippi states that everyone needs role models even in every stage of their career. When no one is available to play that part, it is hard to imagine embarking on new paths, such as careers in male-dominated fields. For example, the lack of female role models is consistently regarded as a set back to women’s career success in STEM fields. Science magazine found that in terms of STEM careers, if more young girls are able to visualize women in STEM, the more encouraged they will be to pursue such jobs, and this same understanding can be translated to numerous other scenarios.
The conclusion then to be drawn is that role models have a crucial impact on the decisions we make and the way we choose to live our lives. Being able to determine qualities you find admirable is an introspective practice. It is important to find people who inspire you to learn, grow and push yourself to be the person you want to be.