The dark side of mimicry: The relationship between nonconscious behavioral mimicry and behavioral confirmation



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Texas Tech University


The current research was designed to examine the relationship between behavioral confirmation and nonconscious behavioral mimicry within social interactions. Behavioral confirmation occurs when perceivers treat target individuals in accord with their expectations, thus eliciting target behavior that is consistent with those expectations. Nonconscious behavioral mimicry refers to the unintentional imitation of the mannerisms of an interaction partner, and occurs due to the perception-behavior link, as well as for the purpose of building interpersonal rapport. Mimicry and expectancy effects were expected to co-occur within social interactions. Across two studies, the current research employed a simulated interview paradigm in which participant-applicants interviewed for a hypothetical job. In Study 1, perceiver expectancy valence was manipulated, as confederate-interviewers asked participant-applicants either positively- or negatively-focused questions while engaging in a neutral physical mannerism (foot shaking). As predicted, mimicry and expectancy effects did co-occur under certain conditions. Greater applicant mimicry of interviewer foot shaking was associated with stronger interview performance when the interviewer asked positively-focused questions, yet was associated with weaker interview performance when the interviewer asked negatively-focused questions. It was also anticipated that target mimicry of an inherently negative perceiver behavior would be possible, and would adversely affect target performance. In Study 2, confederate-interviewers asked negatively-focused questions in all interview sessions and interviewer speech fluency was manipulated (stammering vs. non-stammering), such that interviewers either stammered (inherently negative behavior) or spoke clearly during their interview with applicants. Results did not support the hypotheses; applicants did not commit more speech errors or perform worse in the interviewer stammering condition than in the non-stammering condition. The findings of Study 1 established a relationship between expectancy effects and nonconscious behavioral mimicry, and suggest that the imitation of an inherently neutral mannerism (e.g., foot shaking) can have positive or negative outcomes for the mimicker, depending upon the expectancy context established by the perceiver. Consequently, this is the first research to illustrate that nonconscious mimicry can have negative consequences for those who engage in imitation. Applied implications are discussed. The null findings of Study 2 are discussed with respect to experimental control, target awareness of perceiver behavior, and perceiver attractiveness.



Nonconscious behavior, Mimicry, Behavioral confirmation