The hipness of talking about hipsters aside, understanding how trends work can be helpful in just about any area of life. We’ve seen the Mods, hippies, yippies, yuppies, and hipsters. Seems plausible that this cycle of “deviate for the sake of coolness and become the mainstream” is simply the hipster effect in action. What happens when we apply this to other walks of life? What if we look harder at the neuron? What if we can predict the next big trend? Maybe, one cheeky paper isn’t proof of the hipster effect, but when paired with all the other studies on social behavior, it may be more important than it appears on the surface.
What is the Hipster Effect?
The hipster effect is when anti-conformists rebel against the mainstream and ironically end up adopting similar styles thus becoming mainstream. This is mostly due to the delay in perceiving mainstream trends and responding to them. This process results in hipsters (anti-conformists) becoming a new mainstream group almost immediately after they diverge from the previous mainstream group.
Over time, this new mainstream group is picked up on by conformists, until a new significant group diverges. The whole process repeats in a sort of “hipster loop” that can be seen throughout history by looking at examples like flappers, mods, hippies, yippies, rockers, yuppies, hair bands, alt-rockers, metro-sexuals, and hipsters.
TIP: On this page we talk about Jonathan Touboul’s Hipster Effect theory  and then expand on his findings to give insight into the social and neurological factors that impact counter-cultures like “Hipsters”, “Punks”, “Hippies”, and “Mods”. That is to say, we are playing on Touboul’s work and expanding it with other insights and studies (not paraphrasing it).All hipsters look the same, why? Same reason the mods and hippies and punks and…
“In wanting to oppose the trends, there actually emerges some sort of hipster loop.” – Jonathan Touboul
What Else Affects the Hipster Effect?
The hipster effect is also affected by:
- The fact that they are rebelling against the same mainstream influences at the same time. With the same stimuli, in the same markets, they make similar choices.
- The fact that it is “hipster” to respond things that are mainstream by doing the opposite. This directly affects what hipsters buy, look like, listen to, habits, etc.
- The fact that it’s hard to detect similarities between one’s self and other members of a social group (you are less likely to notice you and your buddies are all wearing flannel and black rim glasses then a stranger).
- The fact that people hold biases when they perceive that they have been on the forefront of a trend (for example continuing to like a band because you think you liked them before they were cool).
- The fact that the market constantly responds with products that cater to a given culture or counterculture.
- The fact that hipsters in their search for something different, likely aren’t looking at mainstream media, while conformists are paying attention to new trends purposefully. This can result in hipsters and mainstream becoming one, which is a step beyond all hipsters becoming part of a mainstream group through rebellion.
This “hipster effect” helps explain why hipsters end up looking the same, why they don’t believe that they do, and why they may be slow to rebel against the current mainstream they have ironically become a part of.
Mathematician Jonathan Touboul in his paper dubbed the fact that rebelling against the mainstream can actually cause an anti-conformist to unknowingly become a conformist “the hipster effect”. He uses math to prove this concept.What is cool? It’s at the heart of the hipster effect and social norms.
This idea is Based on a Paper by a Mathematician
Mathematician Jonathan Touboul published a paper in 2014 called “The hipster effect: When anti-conformists all look the same”. In the paper, he uses math to explain “why all hipsters (anti-conformists) look the same”. From his paper we can conclude:
- Hipsters change their style as a response to the current mainstream.
- The fact that they are all rebelling to the same mainstream style results in them simultaneously and independently adopting similar new styles.
- Due to the delay in which hipsters perceive the new mainstream trends, they end up looking similar to other hipsters (and those with longer delays end up looking similar to the new mainstream).
- Touboul also noted that hipster behaved like a neuron humans have which only fires when other neurons are silent (yes this means there is a hipster neuron).
The end result is that hipsters end up looking the same as each other and soon enough, are co-opted by the same mainstream they were trying to rebel against. The cycle repeats.
Why is this Study Focused on Hipsters?
Touboul probably picked hipsters, out of current relevance, and as ‘click bait’ (as hipsters are a target audience on the Internet and cheeky meta studies about hipsters attract attention).
When reading this page remember hipster means anti-conformist (someone who doesn’t want to conform) and mainstream means conformist (someone who wants to conform). Generally, the hipsters of the 2010’s are a unique group, but the basic principles can be applied to all things that conform and resist conforming.
Example of the Hipster Effect:
The reason everyone has big glasses and a beard is because A) anti-conformists rebelled to the metrosexual fad by growing a beard and wearing glasses and B) conformists saw that people were growing beards and wearing glasses and got on board.
Anti-conformists are likely less likely to check the mainstream media, so there is a delay in between their internal shift and the realization that others are doing the same thing (anti-conformists and conformists alike). By the time the anti-conformists perceive the changes and make a switch, the cycle repeats.
- “The hipster effect: When anticonformists all look the same“. Arxiv.org. Retrieved Feb 3, 2016.
- “The mathematician who proved why hipsters all look alike“. Washingtonpost.com. Retrieved Feb 3, 2016.
- “The Power of Emotional Appeals in Advertising The Influence of Concrete Versus Abstract Affect On Time-Dependent Decisions“. Nyu.edu. Retrieved Feb 3, 2016.
- “Cross-Cultural Consumer Behavior: A Review of Research Findings“. Mariekedemooij.com. Retrieved Feb 3, 2016.
- “‘Acceptable rebellion’: marketing hipster aesthetics to sell Camel cigarettes in the US“. Nih.gov. Retrieved Feb 3, 2016.
- “What Makes Things Cool? How Autonomy Influences Perceived Coolness“. Jcr-admin.org. Retrieved Feb 3, 2016.