Nonconscious Mimicry Occurs when Affiliation Goals are Present

Social Psychology

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Overview

Source: Diego Reinero & Jay Van Bavel—New York University

People are social chameleons and regularly engage in nonconscious behavioral mimicry. This occurs when an individual unwittingly imitates the behaviors of another person, such as crossing one's legs moments after a person sitting adjacent does so, or adjusting one's body posture to match a conversation partner. Rapport between two people increases behavioral mimicry, just as mimicry also increases rapport. Psychologists have posited that this mimicry is attributed to a perception-behavior link;1 seeing a person engage in a behavior activates that behavioral representation, which then makes the perceiver more likely to engage in that behavior him- or herself.

The following experiment expands on these previous findings by testing whether people, without intention or awareness, use mimicry to their advantage. Because goals activate behavioral strategies and plans of action that help people pursue those goals,2 Lakin and Chartrand hypothesized that individuals would mimic another person more when they have a goal to affiliate than when they do not.3

Cite this Video

JoVE Science Education Database. Social Psychology. Nonconscious Mimicry Occurs when Affiliation Goals are Present. JoVE, Cambridge, MA, (2017).

Principles

Nonconscious activation of a mental state is often accomplished through priming procedures. The underlying assumption is that people have automatic associations between various stimuli (e.g., words, images, or sounds) and concepts, and that activating these associations can shape how people think and behave in subsequent situations. Priming is typically accomplished by presenting people with stimuli below the threshold of sensation or consciousness, perceived by or affecting someone's mind without their being aware of it, though it can occur through more explicit procedures as well.

Procedure

1. Participant Recruitment

  1. Conduct a power analysis and recruit a sufficient number of participants and obtain informed consent from the participants.
  2. Randomly assign participants to one of three conditions: Nonconscious affiliation prime, conscious affiliation goal, or no goal.

2. Data Collection

  1. Bring participants to a computer station and tell them that they will be completing several unrelated experiments, the first of which is a test of visual acuity (actually a subliminal priming task).
  2. Seat participants in front of the computer.
    1. When sitting upright, make sure that the distance between their eyes and a fixation point in the center of the computer screen (three asterisks) should be approximately 99 cm (39 in.).
      1. Marks can be made on the floor of the room and on the computer stand to ensure that the chair and monitor are the proper distance from each other.
      2. This ensures that the stimuli presented are outside of the participant's foveal visual field.
  3. Note that all instructions should appear on the computer screen.
    1. All characters presented on the computer screen should be black text on a white background.
    2. Participants will read that the researchers are interested in how quickly and accurately people respond to visual stimuli, and that very brief flashes will appear on the screen at unpredictable places and times.
    3. Their task is to decide as quickly and accurately as possible whether the flash appeared on the right or left side of the screen.
  4. Emphasize to participants that because of the unpredictable timing and location of the flashes, the best way to detect all of them quickly is to keep their eyes focused on the fixation point-three asterisks-in the center of the screen at all times.
  5. Also have them place their index fingers on two keys labeled "left" and "right".
  6. Watch as participants complete six practice trials and answer any questions they may have to ensure they understand the task. After the practice trials the actual task will begin.
  7. Have participants perform the priming task, based upon their group assignment.4
    1. Nonconscious affiliation prime: Participants will be primed with four words related to the concept of affiliation: affiliate, friend, partner, and together.
      1. Have the four words each appear 20 times on the computer screen in a random order, for a total of 80 trials.
    2. Conscious affiliation goal: Participants will be complete a similar "priming" task (though this condition is not meant to subliminally prime any particular concept) and they will be primed with two words: neutral and background.
      1. Have the two words each appear 40 times on the computer screen in a random order, for a total of 80 trials.
    3. No goal: Participants will be complete a similar "priming" task (though this condition is not meant to subliminally prime any particular concept) and they will be primed with two words: neutral and background.
      1. Have the two words each appear 40 times on the computer screen in a random order, for a total of 80 trials.
    4. Note the following stimulus design details.
      1. Each stimulus word should flash for 60 ms and should be immediately followed by a 60-ms masking string of letters in the same location. The masking string can be "XQFBZRMQWGBX" (as originally designed)5 to present a variety of letter patterns and therefore to be structurally similar to the preceding stimulus words.
      2. The screen refresh rate should be 15 ms or faster, such that the presentation length of 60 ms is adequate to ensure that the stimulus words and masks are always exposed to the participants.
      3. The stimulus word and mask should appear at one of four locations on the computer screen equidistant from the fixation point at angles of 45°, 135°, 225°, and 315° (one in each of the four quadrants).
      4. Construct one randomized location order and give all participants the same sequence of locations.
      5. Within a particular location, place each word so that the center of the word is 7.6 cm from the fixation point. At this distance, the stimulus words will be within the parafoveal visual field (from 2° to 6° of visual angle) and outside the foveal visual field associated with conscious awareness.6,7
      6. Have the amount of time between word presentations (including the stimulus word and the mask) vary from 2 to 7 s to enhance the "visual acuity/reaction time task" cover story. All participants should receive one randomized order of time interval lengths.
      7. Because participants are told to focus on the central asterisks throughout the task, the stimulus words are flashed for 60 ms each, and 140 ms has been shown to be the minimum time required to move the eyes away from an initial fixation point toward a parafoveally presented stimulus word, it should not be possible for participants to see the stimulus words, even if they immediately looked toward the location of the flash.
  8. In the second phase of the experiment, have participants complete a memory task in which they are to remember the behaviors of another participant and the order in which they occurred (based on Chartrand and Bargh).4
    1. Example behaviors of another participant:
      Had a party for some friends last week
      Helped a woman fix her bicycle
      Checked some books out of a library
      Wrote an articulate letter to his congressman
      Subscribes to sports magazines
      Jogs every morning before going to work
      Volunteered to teach a Sunday school class at his church
      Went skiing in Colorado for the weekend
      Caught the error in the Mechanic's calculations
      Read the bible in his hotel room
    2. Do not refer to the fact that the phrases describe behaviors, and do not mention whether the behaviors describe the same person.
  9. Create two random orders of these various behaviors.
    1. Present participants with one of the two orders and ensure that the random orders are completely crossed with condition.
    2. Present each behavior predicate for 8 s, with a 1-s pause before the next one.
  10. Following the presentation of the various behaviors, have participants complete a 3-min filler task to eliminate any short-term memory effects (e.g., recency and primacy effects) on free recall.
    1. As part of another ostensibly unrelated experiment, this filler task should require participants to generate arguments both for and against three controversial issues (i.e., abortion, gun control, and capital punishment).
  11. Following this filler task, administer the surprise free-recall test. Give participants a maximum of 4 min to recall the exact order in which the behavior predicates were presented.
  12. Following the memory task, have participants watch a "live feed" of the other participant (actually a confederate videotaped earlier) performing four mundane clerical tasks in an adjoining room: filing papers, answering the phone, stapling papers, and typing at a computer.
  13. For participants in the conscious affiliation goal condition, explicitly state that they would soon be interacting with the person next door on a cooperative task for which it was very important to get along and work together well.
  14. After receiving these instructions, have participants watch the confederate, who will be touching her face during and between clerical tasks.
  15. While participants watch the tape, surreptitiously video-record them, so that independent coders (who will be unaware of the study's purpose and participant's condition) can measure the amount of face touching that the participant engaged in.
  16. After this final phase of the experiment, have participants complete a thorough debriefing that probes for (a) general suspicions (e.g., if they did not think the "live feed" video was real or, in the conscious-affiliation goal condition, that they would be interacting with a person next door), (b) what they thought the flashes were during the vigilance task, and (c) whether they noticed any particular mannerisms exhibited by the confederate.
  17. Measure interrater reliability.
    1. Have two independent judges code the amount of time participants spend touching their faces while watching the videotape and compute inter-rater reliability.
    2. The dependent measure is amount of time spent face touching (s/min).
    3. NOTE: In the original study, one judge coded 100% of the tapes, and another coded 55% of the tapes. Interjudge reliability for the overlapping ratings was significant: r(28) = 0.98, p < 0.001. The authors therefore averaged the two judges' estimates of participants' face touching for the overlapping ratings to form a single index. For the remaining participants, the single judge's estimates of face touching were used as the primary dependent measure.

3. Data Analysis

  1. Compute a between-subjects one-way ANOVA with goal (nonconscious, conscious, no goal) as the independent variable and time spent face touching as the dependent variable.
  2. However, because the original authors predicted no differences in mimicry between two of the three groups, a planned comparison was also run to test their a priori hypothesis that participants with a conscious or nonconscious affiliation goal would mimic more than those without such a goal.

Like chameleons, people blend in with their social environments by unknowingly changing their mannerisms to match another’s behaviors. This phenomenon is known as nonconscious mimicry.

For example, an individual may cross his arms and adjust his posture moments after a co-worker performed those same behaviors. In this case, the imitation occurred automatically, without any personal connection.

In situations where individuals do have rapport, like wanting to form a new company together, unconscious mimicry between the two may occur more often as a result of simply sharing the affiliation goal of being business partners.

Based on the work of Lakin and Chartrand, this video demonstrates how to use an implicit procedure—priming—to establish affiliation goals in a laboratory setting, disguise the actual study and subsequently investigate whether or not individuals use mimicry in situations where it’s personally beneficial.

In this experiment, participants’ are divided into one of three groups (nonconscious affiliation prime, conscious affiliation goal, and no goal), asked to complete several tasks that are supposedly unrelated, and finally, must observe another person performing mundane clerical jobs.

During the first task, those in the nonconscious affiliation priming condition are repeatedly exposed to stimuli onscreen that involve words, such as affiliate, friend, partner, and together, all of which are considered priming for the concept of affiliation.

Participants in the conscious affiliation goal and no goal groups are similarly exposed to words—like neutral and background. However, the terms are not meant to subliminally prime any concept.

In all trials, regardless of condition, each word is flashed for 60 ms at one of four locations outside the foveal visual field, and centered at 7.6 cm from the fixation point. In between words, a masking string of letters—structurally similar to the stimulus words—is also presented for 60 ms.

These are all flashed at varying intervals of 2–7 s to enhance the cover story, in which participants think they are performing a visual acuity and reaction time task. Thus, they press a key labelled right or left depending on which side they perceived the flash.

To further elude the truth behind the experiment, participants are then asked to complete a memory task. This time they are told to remember the order of a list of actions that another participant has completed. Following the presentation of various behaviors, participants are asked to generate arguments to debate controversial issues.

This filler exercise eliminates the short-term memory effects such as recency and primacy effects. Afterwards, participants are given four minutes to recall the order that the behaviors were given.

In the final key phase, participants watch a live feed of a confederate performing mundane clerical tasks such as filing papers, answering the phone, stapling papers, and typing at a computer.

Only participants in the conscious affiliation goal group are explicitly told that they will soon be interacting with the person on a cooperative task where they will need to get along and work well together.

All participants are filmed surreptitiously and during the feed, the confederate will be touching their face throughout the clerical tasks. The dependent variable is the amount of time the participant spends touching their face.

The hypothesis is that the primed nonconscious and the explicit conscious affiliation goal groups would show more mimicry than the no goal controls, suggesting that affiliation—even unknowingly—increases mimicry.

Before starting the experiment, conduct a power analysis to determine the appropriate number of participants required. To begin, greet each one in the lab and obtain consent to take part in the study.

Explain that they will be doing three tasks, and that in the first one, they will complete a visual acuity test on the computer. In reality, this phase serves as a priming portion.

Place participants 99 cm from a computer monitor on which the instructions for the test are displayed. Emphasize that the best way to detect all the flashes is to keep their eyes focused on the fixation point in the center of the screen at all times. Also point out what keys are used to indicate the left or right side.

Watch the participant perform several trials, ensuring that the screen refresh rate is faster than 15 ms and stimuli appear for 60 ms. After answering any questions they may have, leave the room and allow them to complete all 80 trials without interruption.

Depending on their random group assignment, notice that the number of words vary across conditions and appear repeatedly in a random order at one of four locations: Display affiliate, friend, partner, and together for the nonconscious affiliation priming group, and neutral and background for conscious affiliation goal, as well as the no goal controls.

In the second phase, return and administer a memory recall task to avoid any suspicion on what the study is really investigating. From a list of 10 randomly ordered behaviors, instruct participants to remember them in the order they’re read. Say each one over 8 s, with a 1-s pause in between: "Had a party for some friends last week; Helped a woman fix her bicycle; Checked some books out of a library"

Next, to eliminate any short-term memory effects, present a filler task where participants generate arguments for and against three controversial topics over a 3-min period.

Afterwards, administer a surprise free-recall test and give the participant 4 min to recall the exact order in which they heard the previous behaviors: "Had a party for some friends last week; Helped a woman fix her bicycle; Checked some books out of a library". Note that their answers are not officially recorded for any subsequent analysis.

In the third phase, inform them that they will be watching a live feed of another participant performing mundane clerical tasks. Before viewing, tell those in the conscious affiliation goal condition: "You will be soon interacting with the person in the video on a cooperative task for which it is very important to get along and work well together."

Play the same video for all three groups, and surreptitiously record each one as they watch the feed.

Lastly, thoroughly debrief all participants: Probe for suspicions, what they thought the flashes were, and if they noticed any mannerisms exhibited by the person in the feed. Thank them for taking part in the study.

To analyze the data, have two judges who are unaware of the experimental conditions independently assess the amount of time participants spent touching their faces.

Average the two judges’ estimates across conditions and plot the results. Notice that compared to the no goal group, those in the affiliation groups—whether nonconscious or conscious—significantly spent more time touching their faces.

Thus, this experiment demonstrates that nonconscious behavioral mimicry occurs when affiliation goals are present, whether they are subliminally primed or explicitly stated. In addition, it demonstrates that it is not necessary for a person to be physically present in order to be mimicked.

Now that you are familiar with how nonconscious behavioral mimicry can occur when affiliate goals are present, let’s look at other social situations where rapport building is beneficial for human interaction.

Mobile dating apps and websites could seek to boost the probability of cultivating a positive connection between two people by subliminally priming people once a match has been established but prior to any in-person meeting. For example, having the two people complete a word-search puzzle with romantic words may increase their romantic feelings towards each other.

Furthermore, upon going out on a date, simply observing their behavior—if they mimic each other taking a sip of their drink—could allude to a shared goal of forming and strengthening a partnership. Such synchrony acts like social glue, binding a harmonious relationship.

In addition, many companies emphasize the importance of affiliating with clients through the use of regular in-person or phone meetings. Establishing affiliation and a common goal helps to allow nonconscious behavioral mimicry and consequent rapport building to develop.

You’ve just watched JoVE’s video on nonconscious behavioral mimicry. Now you should have a good understanding of how to design and execute an experiment with priming, how to analyze and assess the results, as well as how to apply the principles to a number of real-world situations.

Thanks for watching!

Results

The results indicated that participants in both the nonconscious-affiliation goal and conscious-affiliation goal conditions exhibited more behavioral mimicry (i.e., face touching) than those in the no-goal condition (Figure 1). No significant differences existed between the nonconscious-affiliation and the conscious-affiliation conditions.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Affiliation goals and mimicry. Those in both the conscious-affiliation-goal and the nonconscious-affiliation-goal condition exhibited significantly more behavioral mimicry (i.e., touched their own face) than those in the no-goal condition.

Applications and Summary

People mimic one another constantly, typically nonconsciously, which often results in improved feelings of rapport with another person (so long as the other person is not aware that they are being mimicked). This experiment finds evidence that nonconscious behavioral mimicry occurs when affiliation goals are present, whether those goals are subliminally primed or explicitly stated. This study also demonstrates that it is not necessary for a person to be physically present to be mimicked.

Building rapport with others is a vital aspect of effective human interaction. As goals elicit behavioral implementation strategies (i.e., plans toward achieving said goal), having a goal to affiliate with others may manifest itself through increased nonconscious behavioral mimicry. To the extent that this increase in behavioral mimicry enhances rapport, priming or instructing others of goals to affiliate may enable interpersonal cohesion. These findings are applicable to nearly any social interaction, from first dates to new friendships to corporate boardroom meetings. For example, mobile dating apps seeking to boost the probability of cultivating a positive connection between two people might try subliminally priming people once an online-match has been established but prior to any in-person meeting. On the other hand, companies could emphasize the importance of affiliating with clients and ensure regular in-person meetings occur to allow for nonconscious behavioral mimicry and consequent rapport building.

References

  1. Chartrand, T.L., & Bargh, J.A. (1999). The chameleon effect: The perception-behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 893-910.
  2. Gollwitzer, P.M. (1990). Action phases and mind-sets. In E.T. Higgins & R.M. Sorrentino (Eds.), Handbook of motivation and cognition (Vol. 2, pp. 53-92). New York: Guilford Press
  3. Lakin, J. L., & Chartrand, T. L. (2003). Using nonconscious behavioral mimicry to create affiliation and rapport. Psychological science, 14(4), 334-339.
  4. Chartrand, T.L., & Bargh, J.A. (1996). Automatic activation of impression formation and memorization goals: Nonconscious goal priming reproduces effects of explicit task instructions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 464-478.
  5. Bargh, J. A., Bond, R. N., Lombardi, W. J., & Tota, M. E. (1986). The additive nature of chronic and temporary sources of construct accessibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 869-878.
  6. Bargh, J. A., Raymond, E, Pryor, J., & Strack, E (1995). Attractiveness of the underling: An automatic power → sex association and its consequences for sexual harassment and aggression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 768-781.
  7. Rayner, K. (1978). Eye movement latencies for parafoveally presented words. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 11,13-16.

1. Participant Recruitment

  1. Conduct a power analysis and recruit a sufficient number of participants and obtain informed consent from the participants.
  2. Randomly assign participants to one of three conditions: Nonconscious affiliation prime, conscious affiliation goal, or no goal.

2. Data Collection

  1. Bring participants to a computer station and tell them that they will be completing several unrelated experiments, the first of which is a test of visual acuity (actually a subliminal priming task).
  2. Seat participants in front of the computer.
    1. When sitting upright, make sure that the distance between their eyes and a fixation point in the center of the computer screen (three asterisks) should be approximately 99 cm (39 in.).
      1. Marks can be made on the floor of the room and on the computer stand to ensure that the chair and monitor are the proper distance from each other.
      2. This ensures that the stimuli presented are outside of the participant's foveal visual field.
  3. Note that all instructions should appear on the computer screen.
    1. All characters presented on the computer screen should be black text on a white background.
    2. Participants will read that the researchers are interested in how quickly and accurately people respond to visual stimuli, and that very brief flashes will appear on the screen at unpredictable places and times.
    3. Their task is to decide as quickly and accurately as possible whether the flash appeared on the right or left side of the screen.
  4. Emphasize to participants that because of the unpredictable timing and location of the flashes, the best way to detect all of them quickly is to keep their eyes focused on the fixation point-three asterisks-in the center of the screen at all times.
  5. Also have them place their index fingers on two keys labeled "left" and "right".
  6. Watch as participants complete six practice trials and answer any questions they may have to ensure they understand the task. After the practice trials the actual task will begin.
  7. Have participants perform the priming task, based upon their group assignment.4
    1. Nonconscious affiliation prime: Participants will be primed with four words related to the concept of affiliation: affiliate, friend, partner, and together.
      1. Have the four words each appear 20 times on the computer screen in a random order, for a total of 80 trials.
    2. Conscious affiliation goal: Participants will be complete a similar "priming" task (though this condition is not meant to subliminally prime any particular concept) and they will be primed with two words: neutral and background.
      1. Have the two words each appear 40 times on the computer screen in a random order, for a total of 80 trials.
    3. No goal: Participants will be complete a similar "priming" task (though this condition is not meant to subliminally prime any particular concept) and they will be primed with two words: neutral and background.
      1. Have the two words each appear 40 times on the computer screen in a random order, for a total of 80 trials.
    4. Note the following stimulus design details.
      1. Each stimulus word should flash for 60 ms and should be immediately followed by a 60-ms masking string of letters in the same location. The masking string can be "XQFBZRMQWGBX" (as originally designed)5 to present a variety of letter patterns and therefore to be structurally similar to the preceding stimulus words.
      2. The screen refresh rate should be 15 ms or faster, such that the presentation length of 60 ms is adequate to ensure that the stimulus words and masks are always exposed to the participants.
      3. The stimulus word and mask should appear at one of four locations on the computer screen equidistant from the fixation point at angles of 45°, 135°, 225°, and 315° (one in each of the four quadrants).
      4. Construct one randomized location order and give all participants the same sequence of locations.
      5. Within a particular location, place each word so that the center of the word is 7.6 cm from the fixation point. At this distance, the stimulus words will be within the parafoveal visual field (from 2° to 6° of visual angle) and outside the foveal visual field associated with conscious awareness.6,7
      6. Have the amount of time between word presentations (including the stimulus word and the mask) vary from 2 to 7 s to enhance the "visual acuity/reaction time task" cover story. All participants should receive one randomized order of time interval lengths.
      7. Because participants are told to focus on the central asterisks throughout the task, the stimulus words are flashed for 60 ms each, and 140 ms has been shown to be the minimum time required to move the eyes away from an initial fixation point toward a parafoveally presented stimulus word, it should not be possible for participants to see the stimulus words, even if they immediately looked toward the location of the flash.
  8. In the second phase of the experiment, have participants complete a memory task in which they are to remember the behaviors of another participant and the order in which they occurred (based on Chartrand and Bargh).4
    1. Example behaviors of another participant:
      Had a party for some friends last week
      Helped a woman fix her bicycle
      Checked some books out of a library
      Wrote an articulate letter to his congressman
      Subscribes to sports magazines
      Jogs every morning before going to work
      Volunteered to teach a Sunday school class at his church
      Went skiing in Colorado for the weekend
      Caught the error in the Mechanic's calculations
      Read the bible in his hotel room
    2. Do not refer to the fact that the phrases describe behaviors, and do not mention whether the behaviors describe the same person.
  9. Create two random orders of these various behaviors.
    1. Present participants with one of the two orders and ensure that the random orders are completely crossed with condition.
    2. Present each behavior predicate for 8 s, with a 1-s pause before the next one.
  10. Following the presentation of the various behaviors, have participants complete a 3-min filler task to eliminate any short-term memory effects (e.g., recency and primacy effects) on free recall.
    1. As part of another ostensibly unrelated experiment, this filler task should require participants to generate arguments both for and against three controversial issues (i.e., abortion, gun control, and capital punishment).
  11. Following this filler task, administer the surprise free-recall test. Give participants a maximum of 4 min to recall the exact order in which the behavior predicates were presented.
  12. Following the memory task, have participants watch a "live feed" of the other participant (actually a confederate videotaped earlier) performing four mundane clerical tasks in an adjoining room: filing papers, answering the phone, stapling papers, and typing at a computer.
  13. For participants in the conscious affiliation goal condition, explicitly state that they would soon be interacting with the person next door on a cooperative task for which it was very important to get along and work together well.
  14. After receiving these instructions, have participants watch the confederate, who will be touching her face during and between clerical tasks.
  15. While participants watch the tape, surreptitiously video-record them, so that independent coders (who will be unaware of the study's purpose and participant's condition) can measure the amount of face touching that the participant engaged in.
  16. After this final phase of the experiment, have participants complete a thorough debriefing that probes for (a) general suspicions (e.g., if they did not think the "live feed" video was real or, in the conscious-affiliation goal condition, that they would be interacting with a person next door), (b) what they thought the flashes were during the vigilance task, and (c) whether they noticed any particular mannerisms exhibited by the confederate.
  17. Measure interrater reliability.
    1. Have two independent judges code the amount of time participants spend touching their faces while watching the videotape and compute inter-rater reliability.
    2. The dependent measure is amount of time spent face touching (s/min).
    3. NOTE: In the original study, one judge coded 100% of the tapes, and another coded 55% of the tapes. Interjudge reliability for the overlapping ratings was significant: r(28) = 0.98, p < 0.001. The authors therefore averaged the two judges' estimates of participants' face touching for the overlapping ratings to form a single index. For the remaining participants, the single judge's estimates of face touching were used as the primary dependent measure.

3. Data Analysis

  1. Compute a between-subjects one-way ANOVA with goal (nonconscious, conscious, no goal) as the independent variable and time spent face touching as the dependent variable.
  2. However, because the original authors predicted no differences in mimicry between two of the three groups, a planned comparison was also run to test their a priori hypothesis that participants with a conscious or nonconscious affiliation goal would mimic more than those without such a goal.

Like chameleons, people blend in with their social environments by unknowingly changing their mannerisms to match another’s behaviors. This phenomenon is known as nonconscious mimicry.

For example, an individual may cross his arms and adjust his posture moments after a co-worker performed those same behaviors. In this case, the imitation occurred automatically, without any personal connection.

In situations where individuals do have rapport, like wanting to form a new company together, unconscious mimicry between the two may occur more often as a result of simply sharing the affiliation goal of being business partners.

Based on the work of Lakin and Chartrand, this video demonstrates how to use an implicit procedure—priming—to establish affiliation goals in a laboratory setting, disguise the actual study and subsequently investigate whether or not individuals use mimicry in situations where it’s personally beneficial.

In this experiment, participants’ are divided into one of three groups (nonconscious affiliation prime, conscious affiliation goal, and no goal), asked to complete several tasks that are supposedly unrelated, and finally, must observe another person performing mundane clerical jobs.

During the first task, those in the nonconscious affiliation priming condition are repeatedly exposed to stimuli onscreen that involve words, such as affiliate, friend, partner, and together, all of which are considered priming for the concept of affiliation.

Participants in the conscious affiliation goal and no goal groups are similarly exposed to words—like neutral and background. However, the terms are not meant to subliminally prime any concept.

In all trials, regardless of condition, each word is flashed for 60 ms at one of four locations outside the foveal visual field, and centered at 7.6 cm from the fixation point. In between words, a masking string of letters—structurally similar to the stimulus words—is also presented for 60 ms.

These are all flashed at varying intervals of 2–7 s to enhance the cover story, in which participants think they are performing a visual acuity and reaction time task. Thus, they press a key labelled right or left depending on which side they perceived the flash.

To further elude the truth behind the experiment, participants are then asked to complete a memory task. This time they are told to remember the order of a list of actions that another participant has completed. Following the presentation of various behaviors, participants are asked to generate arguments to debate controversial issues.

This filler exercise eliminates the short-term memory effects such as recency and primacy effects. Afterwards, participants are given four minutes to recall the order that the behaviors were given.

In the final key phase, participants watch a live feed of a confederate performing mundane clerical tasks such as filing papers, answering the phone, stapling papers, and typing at a computer.

Only participants in the conscious affiliation goal group are explicitly told that they will soon be interacting with the person on a cooperative task where they will need to get along and work well together.

All participants are filmed surreptitiously and during the feed, the confederate will be touching their face throughout the clerical tasks. The dependent variable is the amount of time the participant spends touching their face.

The hypothesis is that the primed nonconscious and the explicit conscious affiliation goal groups would show more mimicry than the no goal controls, suggesting that affiliation—even unknowingly—increases mimicry.

Before starting the experiment, conduct a power analysis to determine the appropriate number of participants required. To begin, greet each one in the lab and obtain consent to take part in the study.

Explain that they will be doing three tasks, and that in the first one, they will complete a visual acuity test on the computer. In reality, this phase serves as a priming portion.

Place participants 99 cm from a computer monitor on which the instructions for the test are displayed. Emphasize that the best way to detect all the flashes is to keep their eyes focused on the fixation point in the center of the screen at all times. Also point out what keys are used to indicate the left or right side.

Watch the participant perform several trials, ensuring that the screen refresh rate is faster than 15 ms and stimuli appear for 60 ms. After answering any questions they may have, leave the room and allow them to complete all 80 trials without interruption.

Depending on their random group assignment, notice that the number of words vary across conditions and appear repeatedly in a random order at one of four locations: Display affiliate, friend, partner, and together for the nonconscious affiliation priming group, and neutral and background for conscious affiliation goal, as well as the no goal controls.

In the second phase, return and administer a memory recall task to avoid any suspicion on what the study is really investigating. From a list of 10 randomly ordered behaviors, instruct participants to remember them in the order they’re read. Say each one over 8 s, with a 1-s pause in between: "Had a party for some friends last week; Helped a woman fix her bicycle; Checked some books out of a library"

Next, to eliminate any short-term memory effects, present a filler task where participants generate arguments for and against three controversial topics over a 3-min period.

Afterwards, administer a surprise free-recall test and give the participant 4 min to recall the exact order in which they heard the previous behaviors: "Had a party for some friends last week; Helped a woman fix her bicycle; Checked some books out of a library". Note that their answers are not officially recorded for any subsequent analysis.

In the third phase, inform them that they will be watching a live feed of another participant performing mundane clerical tasks. Before viewing, tell those in the conscious affiliation goal condition: "You will be soon interacting with the person in the video on a cooperative task for which it is very important to get along and work well together."

Play the same video for all three groups, and surreptitiously record each one as they watch the feed.

Lastly, thoroughly debrief all participants: Probe for suspicions, what they thought the flashes were, and if they noticed any mannerisms exhibited by the person in the feed. Thank them for taking part in the study.

To analyze the data, have two judges who are unaware of the experimental conditions independently assess the amount of time participants spent touching their faces.

Average the two judges’ estimates across conditions and plot the results. Notice that compared to the no goal group, those in the affiliation groups—whether nonconscious or conscious—significantly spent more time touching their faces.

Thus, this experiment demonstrates that nonconscious behavioral mimicry occurs when affiliation goals are present, whether they are subliminally primed or explicitly stated. In addition, it demonstrates that it is not necessary for a person to be physically present in order to be mimicked.

Now that you are familiar with how nonconscious behavioral mimicry can occur when affiliate goals are present, let’s look at other social situations where rapport building is beneficial for human interaction.

Mobile dating apps and websites could seek to boost the probability of cultivating a positive connection between two people by subliminally priming people once a match has been established but prior to any in-person meeting. For example, having the two people complete a word-search puzzle with romantic words may increase their romantic feelings towards each other.

Furthermore, upon going out on a date, simply observing their behavior—if they mimic each other taking a sip of their drink—could allude to a shared goal of forming and strengthening a partnership. Such synchrony acts like social glue, binding a harmonious relationship.

In addition, many companies emphasize the importance of affiliating with clients through the use of regular in-person or phone meetings. Establishing affiliation and a common goal helps to allow nonconscious behavioral mimicry and consequent rapport building to develop.

You’ve just watched JoVE’s video on nonconscious behavioral mimicry. Now you should have a good understanding of how to design and execute an experiment with priming, how to analyze and assess the results, as well as how to apply the principles to a number of real-world situations.

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