He’s Copying Me: Deliberate Mimicry as a Relationship Tool

Unless you live a solitary life, you depend on other people and having a positive, supportive relationship with them is necessary.  Our extraverted brethren excel at building rapport whereas introverts are less innately skilled.  Fortunately, we can use deliberate intent coupled with some simple behaviors to enable rapport-building.  In this post, we glean actionable insights from Mimicry in social interaction: benefits for mimickers, mimickees, and their interaction (Stel and Vonk, 2010) and The extravert advantage: how and when extraverts build rapport with other people (Duffy and Chartrand, 2015).

The Research

Various researchers have described the value of mimicry as it relates to building social rapport.  Hsu et al. (2018) note that “mimicry has been suggested to function as a ‘social glue’, a key mechanism that helps to build social rapport. It leads to increased feeling of closeness toward the mimicker as well as greater liking.”  It has been suggested that mimicry contributes to higher quality social interactions by activating a chemical reward system in our brain.

Stel and Vonk (2010) assert that mimicry broadly beneficial and serves to create bonds between people.  Summarizing the literature, these researchers indicate that “for both persons who mimic (mimickers) and persons who are being mimicked (mimickees), mimicry has been shown to enhance feelings of empathy and bonding towards each other”.  They also cite studies that instructed (deliberate) mimicry yields a similar amount of mimicry and beneficial effects as does spontaneous mimicry.

So, mimicry helps build rapport, how is that relevant to introverts?  Duffy and Chartrand (2015) present the results of two studies that evaluated the rapport-building effectiveness of participants when assigned a task to perform with another person.  A randomly selected group of the participants was given an “affiliation goal” – they were informed that the best results for the assigned task would be achieved by getting along with the other person whom was subsequently introduced.  The task performance interactions were recorded with a hidden camera and video data were coded for amount of time spent engaged in mimicry behaviors.  The researchers also collected survey data to provide a measure of extraversion.  In one study, the video data were coded for indicators of rapport.

Consistent with other studies, rapport-building was enhanced by mimicry.  For our purposes, a notable result of the studies was that extraverts engaged in significantly more mimicry than did introverts when assigned an affiliation goal.  In other words, when motivated to achieve a goal, extraverts instinctively used mimicry to connect with the other person.  In the absence of an affiliation goal, there was no difference in mimicry between extraverts and introverts.  Duffy and Chartrand (2015) state that their “results demonstrate a behavioral mechanism by which extraverts boost rapport. Specifically, extraverts mimic more when they want to get along with another person, and this mimicry mediates the relationship between extraversion and rapport.” 

Considering Duffy and Chartrand (2018) and Stel and Vonk (2010) together we can conclude that:

  • Behavioral mimicry enhances rapport
  • Extraverts mimic more when driven to achieve a goal
  • Deliberate mimicry produces a similar benefit as spontaneous mimicry

Putting it into Action

Extraverts may be genetically, neurologically, and behaviorally predisposed to using mimicry as a reward-seeking behavior – it’s automated for them.  Introverts, desiring smoother social interactions and aware of the benefits of mimicry, can consciously employ mimicry as a powerful tool.

In situations where building rapport is necessary or advantageous, employ behavioral mimicry.  Consider mimicking gazing, smiling, nodding, movements, and facial expressions.  Your counterpart will feel more comfortable and have a better experience.  They will be more inclined to accept your perspectives and proposals under those circumstances.  The more quickly you can establish rapport with another person, the more comfortable you’ll feel.  Everyone can win.

References

Duffy, Korrina A., and Tanya L. Chartrand. 2015. “The Extravert Advantage: How and When Extraverts Build Rapport with Other People.” Psychological Science 26 (11): 1795-1802.

Hsu, Chun-Ting, Thomas Sims, and Bhismadev Chakrabarti. 2018. “How mimicry influences the neural correlates of reward: An fMRI study. Neuropsychologia 116 (A): 61-67.

Stel, Mariëlle, and Roos Vonk. 2010. “Mimicry in Social Interaction: Benefits for Mimickers, Mimickees, and Their Interaction.” British Journal of Psychology 101 (2): 311-323.

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