Mimetic Desire Explained Simply

Mimetic Desire – All You Need To Know

In this post, we’ll unpack all you need to know about Mimetic Desire, defining exactly what it is, how and why it occurs, how to overcome it and more.

What Is Mimetic Desire?

Mimetic Desire describes the tendency of how humans prefer to use perceived trusted role models to help simplify their decision-making and inform what they think they want.

Desires Versus Needs

Needs refer to things that are essential to survival. They are unconscious and driven by biology. For example, food, water, shelter etc.

Desires refer to things that aren’t essential to survival. They are conscious and driven by models. For example, transport, clothing accessories etc.

As humans have evolved, people have spent less time in the world of needs and more time in the world of desires.

Why Does Mimetic Desire Occur?

As humans, we evolved to imitate the behaviour of those around us ― a phenomenon that results from the brain’s mirror neurons.

It is this same force ― imitation ― that drives and shapes Mimetic Desire. In other words, we desire the things that other people desire. These people are known as models.

The value of things is not objective, it is subjective. Therefore, we assign value to things based on what other people assign value to because it signals that those things must be of value. When people stop valuing something, so does everyone else.

For example, Mimetic Desire is the force behind pre-selection ― the phenomena that women desire men who other women desire. Similarly, Mimetic Desire is why when a child expresses interest in a toy that previously failed to grab the attention of others, it suddenly attracts the interest of everyone.

Models Of Desire

Models are people, groups or things that influence our desires.

Instead of an internal biological mechanism guiding our choice, models are external mechanisms that shape our desires and drive us towards the pursuit of the objects of those desires.

Through these models, people engage in a form of imitation referred to as mimesis.

Two Types of Models

There are two types of models who mediate our desires and with whom we have different kinds of relationships; external models and internal models. Mimetic desire works differently in each of the two situations.

External mediators of desire influence desire from outside of a person’s external world. They are distant in time, space and status. Since external mediators of desire do not threaten us, they are generally imitated openly and thus don’t lead to conflict.

Internal mediators of desire influence desire from outside of a person’s internal world. They are close in time, space and status. Since internal mediators of desire threaten us, they are generally imitated secretly and thus do lead to conflict.

Imitating a model isn’t dangerous if the desire is for something that is abundant and can be shared. Imitating a desire is dangerous is the desire if for something that is scarce and can’t be shared.

So if desire is generated and shaped by models, then where do models get their desires from? The answer is from other models.

“Models are most powerful when they are hidden. If you want to make someone passionate about something, they have to believe the desire is their own.” ― Luke Burgis

External Versus Internal Mediators Of Desire Table Summary

Below is a table summarising the differences between external and internal mediators of desire.

Models are distant in time, space and status.Models are close in time, space and status.
Easy to identifyHard to identify
Open ImitationSecret Imitation
No ConflictConflict

Positive & Negative Cycles

Mimetic desire can create both positive and negative cycles.

Positive cycles are creative, result from people uniting for some common good and stem from an abundance mindset. Negative cycles are destructive, result from people competing for the same things and stem from a scarcity mindset.

Not surprisingly, people are more threatened by those who want the same things as them as those who don’t. That’s because rivalry is a function of proximity. When people are separated from us by enough time, space or status, there is no way for us to compete seriously with them for the same wants. For example, Ronaldo and Messi may not be rivals to us, but they are rivals to eachother. Because the imitation of desire causes people to compete for the same things, it easily leads to conflict.

“A company in which people are evaluated based on clear performance objectives ― not their performance relative to one another ― minimises mimetic rivalries.” ― Luke Burgis


A scapegoat is an individual, group or thing that is, often unjustly, blamed for the tensions and conflicts caused by a community’s imitative desires and rivalries. This chosen target then becomes the focal point, serving as a conduit for the community to channel and discharge all of their accumulated negative energies, thereby facilitating a semblance of resolution and harmony.

How To Overcome Mimetic Desire

The problem with Mimetic Desire is that it can lead you to want things that you don’t truly want.

Therefore, the key to overcoming Mimetic Desire is to ensure that the things you desire are aligned with your goals and the life you desire.

“When people don’t seem to care what other people want or don’t want the same things, they seem otherworldly.” ― Luke Burgis


Mimetic Desire describes how humans make many of their choices according to the desires of others. The people that we use to help guide our choice are known as role models of which there are two types; external and internal mediators of desire.

The key to overcoming Mimetic Desire is to ensure that our choices and decisions are aligned with our goals and the life we desire.


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