The benefits of body-language mimicry have been confirmed by numerous psychological studies. Gentle mimicry can act as a kind of "social glue" in human relationships. It fosters rapport and trust. It signals cohesion. Two people who like each other will often unconsciously mirror each other’s mannerisms in subtle ways–leaning forward in close synchrony, for example–and that strengthens their bond.
But new research suggests that mirroring may not always lead to positive social outcomes. Psychologist Piotr Winkielman says, "Mimicry is a crucial part of social intelligence, but it is not enough to simply know how to mimic–It’s also important to know when and when not to. The success of mirroring depends on mirroring the right people at the right time for the right reasons. Sometimes the socially intelligent thing to do is not to imitate."
Participants in a study were asked to watch several staged and videotaped interviews. Some saw videos in which the interviewer was friendly and others saw videos in which the (same) interviewer was unfriendly. The people being interviewed in the videos either mirrored the interviewer’s simple mannerisms, such as chin-touching or leg-crossing, or they did not. After watching each video, participants evaluated the interviewee on general competence, trustworthiness and likability. Despite the fact that the participants weren’t aware of the mimicry, it still influenced their evaluations: They thought interviewees who mimicked the unfriendly interlocutor were less competent than those who him when he was friendly.
There’s a lesson here for job hunters: If you’re in a room with several interviewers and you want to make a good impression, copy the gestures of the one who seems MOST FRIENDLY. Hey, WE’RE friendly–we offer you three exciting edge news stories every day plus a radio show you can listen to free for a week–but are you copying OUR gestures? If you were, you’d subscribe today so you know FOR SURE that we’ll still be here tomorrow!