Psychology Whoever imitates makes himself popular
A similar smile, the same posture: Anyone who imitates the gestures and facial expressions of his counterpart in conversations seems especially likeable. However, the behavior also has a disadvantage.
Those who imitate others while getting acquainted make themselves popular – at least within their own gender.
Thus, there are people who mimic others very often, thus behaving like a social chameleon. “In our study we were able to show that this imitative behavior led to a higher popularity of these social chameleons,” explains the psychologist Helén Liebermann of the Free University of Berlin.
In an analysis of 139 participants , the researchers in gender-separated small groups examined how the subconscious copying of behaviors, postures, gestures, facial expressions or language affects getting to know each other. This phenomenon, also called mimicry, was evaluated by the researchers on the basis of video recordings.
In the experiment, the members of the small groups met for short introductory talks. Before and after the participants said how sympathetic they found each other. Candidates who found their interlocutors sympathetic after the first impression were also more likely to adopt behaviors or expressions during the interview.
Better bound, more easily deceived
“Through mimicry, we unconsciously communicate that we like someone and can thereby increase our own popularity,” says Maike Salazar Kämpf from the University of Leipzig. Anyone who already feels sympathy, gets more involved in his counterpart.
Subconscious copying may seem to help build bonds with other people. But there is also a downside, as scientists from the University of Leiden in Enschede in the Netherlands in 2009 found in an attempt . People who imitate others may be more easily deceived by others.
In their study with 92 participants, the scientists then formed two groups. The members of the first group received a small sum of money, which they pocketed themselves or donated to a charitable cause. They then told relatives of the second group – sometimes truthfully, sometimes untrue – what they had done with their money.
The audience was divided again. One half got the task to imitate. The other half should consciously avoid this. Afterwards, the audience had to rate whether they had told them the truth. At the same time, the participants, who largely avoided imitation, most valued their interlocutors more realistically.
“Mimicry makes it easier for us to understand what others feel,” write the scientists around psychologist Marielle Stel, today Uni Enschede, first in general. But where the behavior of the interlocutor does not match his true emotions, conversely: “In the case of misleading messages, mimicry prevents this emotional understanding.”
Editor’s note: We have subsequently corrected the names of the universities for which the researchers are working.
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