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!