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Interpersonal Mimicry: The Chameleon Effect. Lecture 6: Interpersonal Mimicry. Iacoboni, M. (2009). Imitation, empathy, and mirror neurons. Annual Review of Psychology , 60 , 653-670.

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Interpersonal mimicry the chameleon effect l.jpg

Interpersonal Mimicry:The Chameleon Effect

Lecture 6 interpersonal mimicry l.jpg

Lecture 6:Interpersonal Mimicry

Iacoboni, M. (2009). Imitation, empathy, and mirror neurons. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 653-670.

Lakin, J.L., Jefferis, V.E., Cheng, C.M., & Chartrand, T.L. (2003). The chameleon effect as social glue: Evidence for the evolutionary significance of nonconscious mimicry. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 27, 145-162.

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The Importance of Social Interaction

Why do we seek to form connections with others?

What makes a social exchange successful?

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Living in Groups:The Need to Belong

  • group dynamics (2-200 members, Lewin, 2003)

    food, mates, predators, shelter, offspring

    survival, reproduction

  • gaining a valuable edge

    interpersonal harmony

    group cooperation


    avoiding ostracism

  • non-verbal behaviours that support group harmony


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Automaticity Returns

“it might be easier to affiliate with group members if a repertoire of nonverbal behaviors exists and can be utilized for this purpose without excessive planning or thought.”

Lakin et al. (2003, pp. 146-147)

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Types of Mimicry



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So What Exactly Do We Mimic?

  • accents (Giles & Powesland, 1975)

  • speech rates (Webb, 1969)

  • speech rhythms (Cappella & Panalp, 1981)

  • facial expressions (Meltzoff & Moore, 1977)

  • moods (Neumann & Strack, 2000)

  • posture (Bernieri, 1988)

  • mannerisms (Bavelas et al., 1988)

  • idiosyncratic movements (Bavelas et al., 1987)

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The Emergence of Mimicry

  • automatic mimicry of facial expressions is hardwired, emerging in the first month of life (Meltzoff & Moore, 1983)

  • by 9 months of age, infants can mimic abstract emotional expressions (e.g., anger, joy – see Termine & Izard, 1988)

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Mimicry Among AdultsChartrand & Bargh (1999, Expt 1)

  • participants interacted with 2 confederates (discussing photographs)

    ½ - confederate shook her foot

    ½ - confederate touched her face

  • what did the participants do?

    mimicked the specific mannerisms of their

    interaction partner (but without awareness

    of having done so)

  • so why does such ‘automatic’ mimicry occur?

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Mimicry and Rapport

  • mimicry = nonverbal indicator of group rapport (i.e., liking, closeness & understanding)

  • posture sharing in classroom settings gives an indication of interpersonal rapport (LaFrance, 1979, 1982)

  • mimicry serves as an important communicative tool (Bavelas et al., 1987, 1988)

    “I like you!”

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Does Mimicry Create Rapport?Chartrand & Bargh (1999, Expt 2)

  • participants performed task (photo description) with a confederate.

  • confederate either mimicked the participant’s mannerisms or produced non-descript movements.

  • compared to those who were not mimicked, participants who were imitated reported greater liking for the confederate and believed the interaction had been notably smooth and harmonious.

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Mimicry and Increased RapportJefferis, van Baaren, & Chartrand (2003)

  • participant and confederate take turns asking questions:

    ‘personal’ (relationship with parents)

    ‘impersonal’ (university major).

  • throughout the interaction the confederate shook her foot (how much mimicry occurred?).

  • mimicry only increased throughout the interaction when the exchange was personal.

  • sharing information enhances rapport which is expressed through increased mimicry (mimicry/rapport cycle).

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Consequences of Mimicry

  • If mimicry creates interpersonal connections (e.g., rapport, liking), what are the behavioural consequences of imitation?

  • Does imitation make people behave in a particularly pro-social manner?



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The Return of the Clumsy Experimentervan Baaren et al. (2004)

  • participants take part in a task with an experimenter who either mimics the participant’s mannerisms or produces non-descript movements.

  • clumsy experimenter then knocks over some pens – is she offered any help?

  • participants who were previously mimicked were more likely to offer assistance picking up the pens.

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And Your Tips for Freevan Baaren et al. (2003)

  • customers in a restaurant were greeted by a waitress (confederate) who either:

    repeated the order (verbal mimicry)

    mere understanding (control)

  • number and size of tips?

  • mimickers were more likely to receive a tip and their tips were larger (2.97 vs. 1.76 Dutch guilders).

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A Desire to Affiliate:The Goal of Belonging

  • the need to belong (Baumeister & Leary, 1995)

    “the belongingness hypothesis is that human being have a pervasive drive to form and maintain at least a minimum quantity of lasting, positive, and significant interpersonal relationships.”

    (1995, p. 497)

  • goal to affiliate

    conscious vs. non-conscious

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Priming AffiliationLakin & Chartrand (2003)

  • is basic mimicry enhanced by the desire to affiliate?

  • participants interact with confederate while performing a task:

    conscious goal (co-operate, get along)

    non-conscious goal (subliminal priming –

    affiliate, friend, together)

    no goal (control)

  • goal-primed participants produced more mimicry than their colleagues in the control condition.

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Who Mimics?

Are some people more prone to mimicry than others?

Are there important cultural differences in mimicry?

Do particular life experiences influence the tendency to imitate?

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Individual Differences and Mimicry:Empathy (Chartrand & Bargh, 1999, Expt 3)

  • Perspective Taking (adopting/understanding the

    viewpoint of others – basic component of

    empathy – Davis, 1983).

  • participants who score high on perspective taking are more likely to mimic the behaviour of others.

  • understanding promotes affiliation

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Culture and Mimicry:van Baaren et al. (2003)

  • Power of Self Construal (Markus & Kitayama, 1991)

    independent or interdependent?

  • people with interdependent self-construals (i.e., Japanese) displayed more nonconscious mimicry than people with independent self-construals (i.e., Americans)

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Personal Experiences and Mimicry:Ostracism

  • consequences of social exclusion

    increased conformity (Williams et al., 2000)

    enhanced cooperation (Ouwerkerk et al., 2005)

    attention to detail (Pickett & Gardner, 2005)

  • does ostracism increase mimicry?

    covert attempts at affiliation (low cost)

    renewed rejection unlikely

    functional strategy

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Ostracism and Mimicry:(Lakin et al. (2008)

  • Phase 1 - participants allegedly play Cyberball with other people:

    inclusion condition

    exclusion condition

  • Phase 2 – photo description task with confederate (foot shaker)

  • excluded participants displayed more mimicry than included participants.

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Mimicry:Underlying Mechanisms

  • Two Main Frameworks


    motor approach (Hommel & Prinz, 1997)

    ideomotor approach (James, 1890)

  • Sensory-Motor Framework

    perception and action - independent

    stimulus-response mappings

    correspondence problem

  • Ideomotor Framework

    common representational format (perception/Action)

    seeing and doing

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A Case of Finger MovingBrass et al. (2000, 2001)

  • participants view finger movements (upwards & downwards) and move their own finger either in upward direction or downward direction on every trial (i.e., stimulus-response selection not required)

  • predictions

    sensory-motor approach (matching = mismatching)

    ideomotor approach (matching < mismatching)

  • results demonstrated RT advantage for responses identical to the stimuli, supporting the ideomotor account

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Neural Mechanisms:Monkey See, Monkey Do

  • Mirror Neurons

    first observed in the ventral premotor area F5 of

    macaque monkeys, mirror neurons increase their

    rate of firing when the animal performs a goal-

    directed action (e.g., grasping an object) and when the animal watches someone else perform the action (Rizzolati et al., 1996).

  • it is as if the monkey is observing its own action reflected in a mirror, hence the term ‘mirror neuron’s (Gallese et al., 1996)

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Mirror Neurons:Flexibility

Strictly Congruent Mirror Neurons (1/3)

neurons that fire during the observation of exactly the same action they code motorically.

Broadly Congruent Mirror Neurons (2/3)

neurons that fire during the observation of an action achieving the same goal or logically related to the action they code.

Thus, mirror neurons provide the encoding flexibility that social interaction demands (performance of coordinated, cooperative and complimentary behaviours - not simply imitation)

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Mirror Neurons:Goal-Directed Action

mirror neurons do not fire when either the object or hand are presented in isolation (Rizzolatti et al., 1996)

mirror neurons continue to fire when the completion of actions is occluded (Umilta et al., 2001).

Mirror neurons fire to the sound of an action (Keysers et al., 2002) - coding intentions?

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Mirror Neurons:Why?

functional significance of mirror neurons

person understanding

problem of other minds

argument from analogy

knowing me, knowing you

mapping self (body & mind) to understand others

remaining issues

mirror neurons and imitation

theory of mind (empathy, person understanding)

Summary l.jpg


Things Worth Knowing

Process and consequences of imitation.

Role of mirror neurons in person perception.

Next Week

1. The Self.