The Mimicker Is a Mirror of Myself: Impact of Mimicking on Self-Consciousness and Social Anxiety

Article excerpt

Mimicry, also called the chameleon effect (Chartrand & Bargh, 1999), refers to the unconscious imitation of postures, facial expressions, mannerisms, and other verbal and nonverbal behaviors. Much of the research on this topic has had as its focus the impact of mimicry on the perception of the mimicker. For example, participants who are mimicked by a confederate have reported liking that confederate more than have those participants who are not mimicked by a confederate (Chartrand & Bargh, 1999). This change in the perception of the mimicker is usually associated with a change in behavior of the person mimicked towards the mimicker. In two important studies, see van Baaren and colleagues (van Baaren, Holland, Kawakami, & van Knippenberg, 2004) confirmed that mimicry is associated with more frequent helping behavior towards the mimicker. While the positive effect of mimicry on the perception of the mimicker is well documented, the effect of mimicry on self-perception of the person being mimicked has rarely been evaluated. In a recent study Kouzakova, van Baaren, and van Knippenberg (2010) found that whether or not a participant is mimicked during an interaction can be associated with variation in physiological state. These researchers found that during baseline measurements, the salivary cortisol concentrations of nonimitated participants was not different from the concentrations of imitated participants. Whereas after interaction, concentrations of this corticosteroid hormone increased in the group of nonimitated participants, they remained unchanged in the group of imitated participants. For the authors, the stressful consequence of a lack of behavioral imitation explains this result because this behavior is interpreted by the participant as a rejection signal. From the results of this study it becomes clear that mimicry has an internal effect on the person who is being mimicked.

In a new experiment, I hypothesized that mimicry would have an effect on the self-perception of participants and, particularly, would enhance self-consciousness in participants. Self-consciousness is considered as a part of self-awareness, but with the additional realization that others are similarly aware of you. Being watched or observed by somebody else activates self-consciousness and positive or negative self-consciousness feelings. George and Stopa (2008) found that participants who were exposed to their own image in a mirror expressed greater self-consciousness which, in turn, decreased social anxiety. Considering that mimicry constitutes a mirroring effect because it involves someone else mimicking our own behaviors, I surmised that mimicry should, therefore, be associated with increased self-consciousness.


Thirty-six female undergraduate business students, aged between 18 and 20 years, were randomly assigned to the experimental conditions (18 in the mimicked condition and 18 in the control condition).

Upon arrival at the laboratory, each participant was led by the experimenter into a room where a female confederate, presented as an assistant, was seated. The participant was instructed to sit in a chair that was placed perpendicularly so that it half-faced the confederate's chair. The experimenter then left the room and the confederate explained that the experiment consisted of examining people's reactions to certain types of magazine advertisements for a marketing study. The participant was asked to describe verbally her opinion of each of six specific advertisements for approximately one minute each. In the experimental condition, the confederate was instructed to mimic the posture of the participants during their verbal descriptions, by copying their body orientation (e.g., leaning forward) and the positions of their arms and legs. In the control condition, the confederate acted in the same way but was instructed not to mimic the participant. The confederate was trained to keep the rest of her behavior, with the exception of the mimicry, the same across the two conditions. …