Nonconscious mimicry occurs when individuals alter their mannerisms to match the behaviors and expressions of those nearby, without intention.
The concept of nonconscious mimicry is not a new one. How often do you find yourself mimicking someone’s behavior or speech, or even beginning to like the same things that they do? Such actions relate to forming affiliation and fitting in within social situations. Here, this phenomenon will be explored from various aspects to understand how nonconscious mimicry is utilized and impacts us on a daily basis.
Rapport and Liking
What makes nonconscious mimicry more likely to occur? One possibility is rapport and liking. For instance, rapport between two people has been directly linked to increases in mimicry behavior (Bavelas et al., 1986), while mimicry has also been linked to increasing rapport itself. Chartrand and Bargh (1999) were able to demonstrate this behavior: Participants expressed liking the person that they mimicked more. Thus, mimicry is more prominent in relationships where the individuals are looking to build rapport or have a high “like” for the individual.
Using Mimicry to Our Advantage
Now, can mimicry be used to our advantage to achieve certain goals? Goals activate behavioral strategies and actions to pursue such goals (Aarts & Dijksterhuis, 2000). As a result, Lakin and Chartrand hypothesized that individuals will mimic another person more when they have a goal to affiliate than when they do not (Lakin & Chartrand, 2003). This Scientists-in Action video demonstrates their experiment.
Briefly, they demonstrated that having an affiliation goal increased nonconscious mimicry, like face-touching, compared to those in the no-goal condition. Such findings support the concept that fitting in and relating to individuals matter in social situations (Larkin & Chartrand, 2003). Thus, nonconscious mimicry can be used as a strategy to achieving a goal, even without awareness.
How Does Nonconscious Mimicry Apply to Everyday Activities?
Imagine you are going in for an interview. Immediately, you notice that your interviewer is very animated in both their facial expressions and mannerisms. You naturally start to increase their mannerisms to relate to the interviewer and build rapport.
Or, perhaps you come home after a long day of work. You are excited that it’s Friday, giving you the weekend to relax. Instantly, you notice that your roommate is in a bad mood and sulking about. Unconsciously, your mood begins to change and becomes more negative due to your roommate’s attitude. In this case, you are shifting your disposition to meet that of your roommate’s in order to feel more connected.
Either negatively or positively, nonconscious mimicry can occur to build rapport. Whether you’d like to relate to an interviewer to get a job or your mood dips to match a friend, such flexibility allows individuals to fit in to a variety of situations.