Mirroring With Social Intelligence

By Evelyn So
Evelyn So
Evelyn So
August 5, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015
COMPLICATED SOCIAL INTERACTIONS: While mimicking someone's body language may better that person's impression of you, new research shows that bystanders may think badly of you if the person you are imitating is unfriendly. (Photos.com)
COMPLICATED SOCIAL INTERACTIONS: While mimicking someone's body language may better that person's impression of you, new research shows that bystanders may think badly of you if the person you are imitating is unfriendly. (Photos.com)

Mimicking another’s body language may come with reputational costs, new research to be published in the journal Psychological Science suggests.

Previous psychological studies have shown that mirroring another person’s behaviors like postures, gestures, and facial expressions may influence the person being mimicked to have a better impression of the mimicker, thus aiding the mimicker in closing a sale or succeeding in an interview or a date.

By examining a third party’s perception of dyadic mimicry, researchers from the University of California-San Diego questioned the popular perception that subtle imitations are acts of strengthening social relationships.

The study’s participants rated an interviewee in competence, trustworthiness, and likeability after watching several staged and videotaped interviews.

A portion of the participants watched videos of a friendly interviewer, while another group of participants watched a condescending interviewer. Some videos displayed the interviewee innocuously mirroring the interviewer’s behaviors, such as chin-touching or leg crossing, and the other videos showed another interviewee with no acts of mirroring.

Results found that when the interviewer is unfriendly, the participants rated the non-mirroring interviewee as more competent than a mimicking interviewee, although the participants reported no awareness of mimicry in the interviewees.

Additionally, it was found that when participants were given positive information about the condescending interviewer such as his participation in humanitarian work, the reputational costs incurred by the mimicking interviewee disappeared.

“It’s good to have the capacity to mimic, but an important part of social intelligence is knowing how to deploy this capacity in a selective, intelligent, context-dependent manner,” researcher Piotr Winkielman said in a press release.

“Sometimes the socially intelligent thing to do is not to imitate.”

Evelyn So