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Individuals automatically mimic a wide range of different behaviors, and such mimicking behavior has several social benefits. One of the landmark findings in the literature is that being mimicked increases liking for the mimicker. Research in cognitive neuroscience demonstrated that mentally simulating motor actions is neurophysiologically similar to engaging in these actions. Such research would predict that merely imagining being mimicked produces the same results as actually experiencing mimicry. To test this prediction, we conducted two experiments. In Experiment 1, being mimicked increased liking for the mimicker only when mimicry was directly experienced, but not when it was merely imagined. Experiment 2 replicated this finding within a high-powered online sample: merely imagining being mimicked does not produce the same effects as being actually mimicked. Theoretical and practical implications of these experiments are discussed.
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Vol.:(0123456789)
Journal of Nonverbal Behavior (2022) 46:233–246
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10919-022-00399-1
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ORIGINAL PAPER
Imagining isNot Observing: The Role ofSimulation Processes
Within theMimicry‑Liking Expressway
WojciechKulesza1 · NinaChrobot2 · DariuszDolinski3 · PawełMuniak1 ·
DominikaBińkowska2· TomaszGrzyb3 · OliverGenschow4
Accepted: 3 February 2022 / Published online: 6 April 2022
© The Author(s) 2022
Abstract
Individuals automatically mimic a wide range of different behaviors, and such mimick-
ing behavior has several social benefits. One of the landmark findings in the literature is
that being mimicked increases liking for the mimicker. Research in cognitive neuroscience
demonstrated that mentally simulating motor actions is neurophysiologically similar to
engaging in these actions. Such research would predict that merely imagining being mim-
icked produces the same results as actually experiencing mimicry. To test this prediction,
we conducted two experiments. In Experiment 1, being mimicked increased liking for the
mimicker only when mimicry was directly experienced, but not when it was merely imag-
ined. Experiment 2 replicated this finding within a high-powered online sample: merely
imagining being mimicked does not produce the same effects as being actually mimicked.
Theoretical and practical implications of these experiments are discussed.
Keywords Mimicry· Imitation· Chameleon effect· Imagination· Mental simulation·
Liking
Imagining isNot Observing
The Role ofSimulation Processes Within theMimicry‑Liking Expressway
Individuals have the propensity to automatically imitate a wide range of different behaviors
(for definitions of different forms of imitation, see Genschow etal., 2017), facial expres-
sions (Dimberg, 1982), emotions (Hess & Fischer, 2016), postures (LaFrance, 1982),
* Paweł Muniak
pmuniak@swps.edu.pl
1 Centre forResearch On Social Relations, Warsaw Faculty, SWPS University ofSocial Sciences
andHumanities, Chodakowska 19/31, 03-815Warsaw, Poland
2 Warsaw Faculty, SWPS University ofSocial Sciences andHumanities, Warsaw, Poland
3 Faculty ofPsychology inWroclaw, SWPS University ofSocial Sciences andHumanities, Warsaw,
Poland
4 Social Cognition Center Cologne, University ofCologne, Cologne, Germany
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gestures (Cracco etal., 2018), or simple movements (Genschow & Florack, 2014; Gen-
schow & Schindler, 2016; Genschow etal., 2013). Early work indicates that such imita-
tive behavior helps infants and toddlers to learn new skills (e.g., Bandura, 1986). Other
research suggests that mimicry is an important tool in psychotherapy as it fosters rapport
(Charny, 1966) and a deeper understanding between psychotherapists and patients (Charny,
1966; Maurer & Tindall, 1983; Scheflen, 1964). Thus, unsurprisingly, mimicry between
patients and therapists is associated with a positive psychotherapeutic outcome (Ramseyer
& Tschacher, 2011, 2014).
Other work indicates that mimicry fulfills an important social function because it forms
stronger bonds between humans (e.g., Duffy & Chartrand, 2015; Wang & Hamilton, 2012).
For example, research demonstrated that mimickees (i.e., persons who are being mim-
icked) behave towards mimickers (i.e., persons who mimic) in a more prosocial (Kulesza,
Dolinski, etal., 2014; Kulesza, Szypowska, etal., 2014; van Baaren etal., 2003, 2004) and
trustworthy manner (Swaab etal., 2011). Certainly, one of the landmark findings in the
mimicry literature is that being mimicked increases liking for the mimickers (Chartrand
& Bargh, 1999; Kulesza etal., 2015; LaFrance & Ickes, 1981; Lakin etal., 2003; Stel &
Vonk, 2010).
Mimicry is typically explained by so-called perception-behavior theories (Chartrand
& Bargh, 1999; Greenwald, 1970; Prinz, 1997). These theories assume that individuals
imitate each other because perceiving an action evokes the same mental representation as
engaging in this action. In the last decades, this view has been supported by numerous
neuropsychological experiments, including fMRI studies (e.g., Gazzola & Keysers, 2009;
Keysers & Gazzola, 2010), motor TMS studies (e.g., Catmur etal., 2007; Fadiga et al.,
1995), and single-cell recordings in both monkeys (di Pellegrino etal., 1992) and humans
(Mukamel etal., 2010).
In line with this view, theories on grounded or embodied cognition postulate that bodily
experiences and mental representations are intricately linked (e.g., Barsalou, 1999, 2008;
Semin & Smith, 2008). Research in support of such an account has shown that sensori-
motor inductions and simulations can affect attitudes (e.g., Topolinski & Boecker, 2016),
memory (e.g., Topolinski, 2012), and other important social–cognitive outcomes (for a
review, see Meier etal., 2012).
More specific support for the idea that mimicry is strongly based on a simulation pro-
cess comes from research on anticipated action (Genschow & Brass, 2015; Genschow
& Groß-Bölting, 2021; Genschow, Bardi, etal., 2018)—a phenomenon closely linked to
mimicry (Genschow etal., 2018). This line of research shows that anticipating someone
else’s action leads individuals to engage in the anticipated action even if the observed
person does not engage in the action. For example, merely anticipating that another per-
son will scratch her nose is sufficient to trigger nose scratching actions in the observer.
An explanation for this effect is that individuals mentally simulate other people’s future
actions, which, in turn, facilitates engagement in the anticipated action. In other words,
imagining another person’s action is sufficient to produce the imagined action.
Going one step further, research on mental simulation suggests that merely imagining
one’s own actions leads to similar behavioral outcomes as actually executing this action.
For instance, Pascual-Leone etal. (1995) asked novices to engage in a specific piano exer-
cise. While a third of participants performed the exercise for five days, another third merely
imagined engaging in the exercise for 5 days, and yet another third of participants did not
engage in the exercise at all. The results indicate that participants who actually played the
piano outperformed the others in playing the piano. Strikingly, however, after two hours of
actual piano playing, the group who merely imagined playing the piano was on the same
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level as the participants who physically practiced playing the piano. Participants who did
not engage in the exercise the days before were not able to reach this level after two hours
of training. These results suggest that mentally simulating an action is sufficient to affect
actual behavior. On the other hand, research on imagining not actions but a state (Oettingen
& Wadden, 1991) has shown that merely imagining a desired state (i.e., an obese person
imagines “I am thin”) did not lead to a desired state (being thin). The key factor was imag-
ining not only a state, but also actions (“I am making a huge effort at the gym”, “I do not
eat cookies”). Only then was the expected outcome achieved.
Present Research
Since research on mental simulation of motor actions suggests that imagining an action is
very closely linked to actually executing the action, the question arises as to what extent
imagining being mimicked by another person would increase liking for this person in the
same way as actually being mimicked by this person. To investigate this question, we con-
ducted two experiments. Experiment 1 was designed as a pilot study to test the research
question in a natural setting. Experiment 2 was designed to put the main result obtained in
Experiment 1 to a critical test by assessing a higher-powered sample, manipulating mim-
icry in a more controlled way, and measuring liking in a more reliable manner.
The stimulus material and the data of our experiments are openly accessible at the Open
Science Framework (OSF: https:// bit. ly/ 3tTpz Ff).
Experiment 1
Method
Participants andDesign
Sixty call center operators (33 women, 27 men) with an age ranging from 19 to 40
(Mage = 27.6, SD = 5.02) participated in the experiment as part of business training. As
some researchers (Arnold & Winkielman, 2020; Seibt etal., 2015) mentioned gender dif-
ferences in mimicry (for a critical reflection on these findings, see Genschow, Klomfar,
etal., 2018), we took great care in equally assigning male and female participants to the
experimental groups. Statistical analysis demonstrates that the gender distribution between
the experimental conditions was not unequal: χ2(2, N = 60) = 2.83, p = 0.243, V = 0.22. Par-
ticipants were randomly assigned to one of three between-subject conditions: visible mim-
icry, imagined mimicry, no-mimicry. Due to the pilot nature of the experiment, the number
of participants per experimental condition was twenty. No participants were removed from
the analysis.
Procedure
The experiment was conducted in a natural setting as part of business training for call
center operators working for a company selling decoders for digital television. We
chose this setting for the first experiment because it allowed us to investigate our pre-
dictions in a natural situation. Each operator participated individually in the experi-
ment. The experiment lasted approximately 15min. Each operator interacted with a
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female confederate (in her thirties) who was blind to the hypothesis and was intro-
duced as a coach. The ostensible goal of the training was to introduce participants to
a new procedure in dealing with customers who did not return IT equipment in time.
At the beginning of the experiment, the mimicry manipulation took place. That
is, participants took part in an ostensibly one-minute relaxation procedure to boost
concentration during the training session. To mask the actual purpose of the study,
the confederate informed participants that the relaxation procedure is a well-known
method that had recently been communicated in a scientific TV program.
In standard experiments that measure the amount of mimicking behavior (e.g.,
Chartrand & Bargh, 1999), a confederate engages in a target action (e.g., touching the
head) typically once every 20 to 30s. The interactions are videotaped to measure par-
ticipants’ mimicking behavior, and coders count how often participants engaged in the
same actions as the confederate. Based on the setup of such a mimicry experiment, the
time delay between observed and mimicked actions lies between a few milliseconds
and 30s. In contrast, in many experiments assessing the consequences of being mim-
icked, confederates mirror the participants’ body language, postures, and mannerisms
(e.g., Chartrand & Bargh, 1999). Unfortunately, such a procedure confounds mimicry
with synchrony because participants and confederates engage in the same behaviors
more or less at the same time. To clearly separate synchrony from mimicry, we applied
a procedure that builds on experiments assessing the amount of mimicry.
In all conditions, the coach/confederate and the participants sat opposite each other
in a natural position. The confederate explained that the participants had to engage in
two different relaxation exercises for 30s each. The first exercises consisted of 30s of
massaging one’s temple and forehead with both hands. The second exercise involved
30s of inhalations and exhalations while raising one’s right hand up and down. Par-
ticipants first received verbal instructions for each exercise, and the confederate/coach
controlled participants’ engagement in the exercises. Depending on the experimental
condition, the confederate/coach responded to each exercise in a different manner. It is
important to note that participants did not expect the confederate to engage in mimicry
behavior in any of the experimental conditions. In the visible mimicry condition, par-
ticipants saw after each exercise the confederate/coach engaging in the very same exer-
cise for 30s. In the imagined mimicry condition, participants could also see the con-
federate. However, after participants engaged in an exercise, the coach/confederate did
not engage in any exercises but assumed a still position. Participants were instructed
to observe the coach/confederate and to imagine that she would engage in the same
exercise for 30s. In the no-mimicry condition, after each exercise, the coach/confeder-
ate did not engage in any exercises either. However, in contrast to the other condition,
participants were instructed to merely observe the coach/confederate, who remained in
a natural resting position.
Afterward, in all three conditions, the main five-minute business training session on
product and customer service, which was unrelated to the purpose of this study, was
performed.
After the training, and regardless of the experimental condition, each participant
was asked to assess his or her attitude to the coach/confederate by indicating agree-
ment (1 = not at all; 7 = very much) with the following statement: “The coach is a
nice and friendly person.” The coach left the room while participants were rating her.
Finally, participants put the survey into a box, were debriefed, and dismissed.
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Results
To investigate the effect of being mimicked on liking, we ran a one-way ANOVA. The
results show that being mimicked affects liking for the coach/confederate, F(2, 57) = 5.75,
p = 0.005, ηp
2 = 0.17 (cf. Figure 1). A Tukey’s post-hoc test revealed significant differ-
ences between the visible mimicry (M = 6.35, SD = 0.88) and imagined mimicry condition
(M = 5.55, SD = 1.05), t(57) = 2.47, p = 0.043, d = 0.83. This indicates that being able to see
and perceive mimicry is a crucial precondition for the effect of being mimicked on liking
to occur. Liking for the confederate also differed significantly between the visible mim-
icry condition (M = 6.35, SD = 0.88) and the no-mimicry condition (M = 5.3, SD = 1.13),
t(57) = 3.24, p = 0.006, d = 1.04.
A final analysis revealed no statistical difference between the imagined mimicry condi-
tion (M = 5.55, SD = 1.05) and the no-mimicry condition (M = 5.3, SD = 1.13), t(57) = 0.77,
p = 0.721, d = 0.23. To estimate the probability that our data would occur if the null
hypothesis was true (i.e., there is no difference between the imagined mimicry and the no-
mimicry condition), we ran a Bayesian t-test for independent samples using JASP software
(JASP Team, 2021; Version 0.16) with the default priors (i.e., 0.707). This analysis yielded
BF01 = 2.43, which can be considered as anecdotal evidence for H0 (Jeffreys, 1961).
Experiment 2
Replicating previous results reported in the literature (e.g., Chartrand & Bargh, 1999;
Kulesza etal., 2015; La France & Ickes, 1981; Lakin etal., 2003), Experiment 1 found
that being mimicked increases liking for the mimicker. Moreover, the results demonstrate
that merely imagining being mimicked does not produce the same effects as actually being
mimicked. This indicates that participants need to actually experience mimicry to perceive
another person as more likable.
An explanation for this result may be found in the already mentioned work of Oettingen
and Wadden (1991), where it was reported that imagining not only a state, but also actions
Fig. 1 Mean participant liking of the coach by the mimicry condition. Note. Bars represent mean values,
error bars represent standard error of mean. * The mean difference is significant at the .05 level, ** The
mean difference is significant at the .01 level
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(in comparison to imagining a state only) that led to the expected outcome. In our study,
participants only imagined the state.
Despite this implication, several limitations of Experiment 1 hinder drawing strong con-
clusions. First, Experiment 1 was rather underpowered with only sixty participants. Sec-
ond, liking was measured with one item only, which is known to have low reliability (e.g.,
Epstein, 1980). Third, one could argue that the item we used did not measure liking per
se but rather positive perceptions of the coach. Thus, in Experiment 2, we carried out a
high-powered replication with a slightly modified procedure that allowed mass testing in
an online setting.
Moreover, we decided to measure respondents’ liking toward the coach/confederate
more directly and reliably by including multiple items. Finally, as in Experiment 1, the
mimicker was a woman. In Experiment 2, we decided to test the generalizability of our
effect by replicating it with a male mimicker.
Method
Participants andDesign
We aimed to detect an effect size of at least d = 0.4, roughly corresponding to the average
effect size obtained in psychological research. To detect such an effect with a power of
1—β = 0.8, and alpha-probability of α = 0.05, 100 participants per condition are needed.
To this end, we recruited participants for an online experiment via Amazon’s Mechanical
Turk. 301 participants (114 women, 178 men, M age = 36.2, SD age = 11.0) with an age rang-
ing from 20 to 72 agreed to participate in the experiment. Nine participants were excluded
from the analyses because they reported that they did not engage in the relaxation exer-
cises. Thus, the final sample consisted of 292 participants. Participants were randomly
assigned to one of three between-subject conditions: visible mimicry, imagined mimicry,
no-mimicry. As in Experiment 1, the gender distribution between the experimental condi-
tions was not unequal: χ2 (2, N = 292) = 2.64, p = 0.267, V = 0.1.
Procedure
The procedure was very similar to that of Experiment 1. However, instead of manipulating
mimicry in a face-to-face manner, we applied a procedure for online experiments by adapt-
ing video manipulations previously used in experiments on mimicry (e.g., Genschow &
Alves, 2020; Genschow etal., 2017; Genschow, Klomfar, etal., 2018; Kulesza etal., 2015;
Sparenberg etal., 2012). Although the disadvantage of such a video manipulation is a lack
of real-life social interactions, it has several methodological advantages. First, in contrast to
real-life situations, the confederates are blind to conditions and hypotheses and can thereby
not influence the outcome of the manipulation. Second, the timing and performance of the
confederates’ actions are the same across participants, which reduces noise.
In Experiment 2, participants had to engage in three different relaxation exercises for
15s each: (1) massaging the temples with both hands, (2) moving the head up and down,
and (3) moving shoulders up and down.
For each exercise, participants received separate written instructions. After each instruc-
tion, they had to engage in the respective exercise for 15s. Depending on the condition,
after each exercise, participants were presented with different stimuli. After each exercise,
participants in the visible mimicry condition watched a video of a male model engaging
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in the same exercise for 15s. Participants in the imagined mimicry condition were pre-
sented after each exercise with a photo of the same model for 15s. In addition, they were
instructed to imagine the model depicted in the photo engaging in the same exercise as they
just did. Participants in the no-mimicry condition saw a photo of the same model for 15s
after each exercise but were instructed to merely look at the photo. All videos and photos
are publicly accessible at the Open Science Framework (OSF: https:// bit. ly/ 3tTpz Ff).
After running through three trials, participants indicated how much they liked the model
with four items adapted from Chartrand and Bargh (1999). That is, on 9-point rating scales,
participants rated their agreement (1 = not at all; 9 = very much) with the following state-
ments: “I find the other person likable”, “The other person is friendly”, “I like the other
person”, “I think I could become friends with the other person.” To prepare data for analy-
ses, we computed a mean score over all items (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.96).
To go along with the cover story, participants also reported how relaxed they felt by
indicating their agreement on 9-point rating scales (1 = not at all; 9 = very much) with the
following three statements: “After engaging in the exercises, I feel relaxed,” “The exer-
cises calmed me down,” “After engaging in the exercises, I feel better than before.” To pre-
pare data for analyses, we averaged the ratings across all items (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.90).
Finally, participants indicated if they actually engaged in the relaxation exercises and then
indicated basic demographics.
Results
First, we analyzed whether mimicry had an effect on reported relaxation. A one-way
ANOVA with the mimicry condition (visible mimicry vs. imagined mimicry vs. no-mim-
icry) as the independent variable and reported relaxation as the dependent variable did not
yield a significant effect, F(2, 289) = 2.24, p = 0.108, ηp
2 = 0.02. This indicates that there
is no reason to believe that mimicry influences participants’ relaxation; visible mimicry
(M = 7.13, SD = 1.43), imagined mimicry (M = 6.83, SD = 1.34), no-mimicry (M = 6.67,
SD = 1.68). To estimate the probability that our data would occur if the null hypothesis was
true (i.e., mimicry does not influence relaxation), we ran a Bayesian ANOVA for independ-
ent samples using the JASP software (JASP Team, 2021; Version 0.16) with the default
priors (i.e., 0.707). This analysis yielded BF01 = 3.56, which can be considered moderate
evidence for H0 (Jeffreys, 1961).
More important for our predictions, however, was the result of the ANOVA on indicated
liking for the model. The results show that mimicry affected liking, F(2, 289) = 10.64,
p < 0.001, ηp
2 = 0.07 (cf. Figure2). A post-hoc test with Tukey’s correction revealed signif-
icant differences, t(289) = 2.73, p = 0.018, d = 0.45, between the visible mimicry (M = 6.57,
SD = 1.64) and the imagined mimicry condition (M = 5.77, SD = 1.89). Liking of the mod-
els also differed significantly, t(289) = 4.61, p < 0.001, d = 0.65, between the visible mim-
icry (M = 6.57, SD = 1.64) and the no-mimicry condition (M = 5.26, SD = 2.27).
As in Experiment 1, there was no significant difference, t(289) = 1.86, p = 0.152,
d = 0.24, between the imagined mimicry (M = 5.77, SD = 1.89) and no-mimicry condition
(M = 5.26, SD = 2.27). To estimate the probability that our data on the comparison between
the imagined mimicry and the actual mimicry condition would occur if the null hypoth-
esis was true (i.e., there is no difference between the imagined mimicry and the no-mim-
icry condition), we ran a Bayesian t-test for independent samples using the JASP software
(JASP Team, 2021; Version 0.16) with the default priors (i.e., 0.707). This analysis yielded
BF01 = 1.57, which can be considered anecdotal evidence for H0 (Jeffreys, 1961).
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Discussion
The results of Experiment 2 replicate the finding obtained in Experiment 1: being
mimicked increases liking for the mimicker. For this effect to occur, individuals need
to actually observe the other person mimicking. Merely imagining that the other per-
son mimicking does not produce the same effect as actually being mimicked.
However, one may argue that the video manipulation we used to implement mimicry was
perceived as artificial, which might have influenced our results. However, for several reasons,
we regard the influence of the artificial setup on our effects as rather non-substantial. First,
video manipulations are not uncommon in the mimicry literature and are known to produce
similar effects as real-life interactions (e.g., De Coster etal., 2014; Genschow etal., 2017; Gen-
schow, Klomfar, etal., 2018; Kulesza etal., 2015; Sparenberg etal., 2012). Second, the artificial
nature of the mimicry condition did not seem to bother participants. At least, we did not find
differences between the conditions in terms of indicated relaxation. Finally, even if the artificial
nature of our manipulation would have had an influence on our results, this does not apply to
Experiment 1, in which we applied a real-life situation and found the same results as in Experi-
ment 2.
General Discussion
The goal of the present research was to test whether imagining being mimicked would
influence the perception of the mimicker to the same extent as actually being mim-
icked. The results show that merely imagining being mimicked does not relate to lik-
ing in the same way as actually being mimicked does because being mimicked led
to more liking than imagining being mimicked. This finding has several theoretical
implications.
Fig. 2 Mean participant liking of the model by the mimicry condition. Note. Bars represent mean values,
error bars represent standard error of mean. *The mean difference is significant at the .05 level, *** The
mean difference is significant at the .001 level
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Theoretical Implications
Research on mental action simulation suggests that merely thinking of an action is neu-
rophysiologically similar to actually engaging in that action (e.g., Chartrand & Bargh,
1999; Greenwald, 1970; Prinz, 1997). From this point of view, one could have expected
that imagining being mimicked leads to the same results as actually being mimicked. This
is, however, not what we found. Instead, our results are in line with non-representational
frameworks of imitation (e.g., Carr & Winkielman, 2014; Iacoboni, 2009). Such frame-
works put forward that the involvement of higher-order constructs that map another’s
actions onto one’s own body are not a necessary precondition for mimicry to occur. In line
with this notion, our results suggest that in the domain of being mimicked, merely imagin-
ing being mimicked does not lead to the same effects as actually being mimicked. Indeed,
recent research suggests that it is the visuo-spatial similarity between the mimicker’s and
the mimickee’s action, and not the similarity in motor system activity per se that accounts
for the mimicry-liking pathway (Casasanto etal., 2020). At the same time, it is important
to note that our findings do not call into question mental simulation accounts. Our results
merely suggest that the principles observed in mental simulation research do not apply to
the domain of being mimicked. In other words, our results suggest that being mimicked
and imagining being mimicked do not rely on the same principle as actually performing an
action and imagining doing this action.
Another interesting finding of our research is that despite a very brief exposure to mim-
icry, we found an effect of mimicry on liking in both experiments. This illustrates how
quickly the effects of being mimicked can unfold. In all of our experiments, mimicry
exposure was just a few seconds long. This is very short when compared with the origi-
nal Chartrand and Bargh (1999) experiments, which lasted approximately nine minutes.
This finding not only has implications for the research on mimicry but also for research on
social influence and implementation in real-life situations, such as in therapy, coaching,
and workshops. Exposing individuals to nonverbal behavior for just a few seconds may be
sufficient to affect receivers’ perception.
Finally, and related to the previous implication, from a practical point of view, mimicry
is often applied in clinical psychology, where it has been shown that imitation helps to
build a mutual understanding between psychotherapist and patients (Charny, 1966; Mau-
rer & Tindall, 1983; Ramseyer & Tschacher, 2011, 2014; Scheflen, 1964). Our research
adds an important new quality as the effects may already be present after brief mimicry
exposure.
Limitations andFurther Directions
Besides these implications, there are several limitations that call for a thorough discus-
sion. First, one may argue that in our experiments it may have been the instructions that
were responsible for the differences in liking. Simply put, being asked to just watch a live
person sitting still in a natural position (Experiment 1) or a photograph of a person sitting
in a natural position (Experiment 2) could be perceived as unnatural and may trigger the
participants to think about reasons for why the person is behaving in such a way. This extra
cognitive effort or the unusual nature of the situation could have influenced participants’
mood and as a consequence affected the liking of the person being observed. However, it
is important to note that in Experiment 2, we measured how relaxed participants were. As
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we did not find an effect of the mimicry manipulation on feelings of relaxation, we regard
it as rather unlikely that our effects can be explained by differences in mood. Nevertheless,
this alternative explanation of our findings leads to the broader question of whether any
mimicry effect reported in the literature is driven by actual mimicry or due to the absence
of mimicry.
It might well be that mimicry takes place in any natural social conversation and that the
absence of such mimicking behavior is perceived as unnatural, thereby reducing prosocial
attitudes and liking for the interaction partner. To the best of our knowledge, this explana-
tion has never been rigorously tested. Thus, future research may investigate to what degree
mimicry leads to an increase and/or the absence of mimicry to a decrease of prosocial
attitudes and liking. While it remains open to what degree control conditions in mimicry
experiments reduce liking for the interaction partner, it is important to note that this open
question does not limit the main contribution of our research. From a mental action simula-
tion point of view, one could have expected that imagining being mimicked would lead to
the same degree of liking as when actually being mimicked. As this was not the case, we
are confident in concluding that merely imagining being mimicked does not produce the
same effects on liking as actually being mimicked does. Nevertheless, future research may
aim to more rigorously test the contribution of the control condition in typical mimicry
experiments.
Second, an alternative explanation of our findings could be that in the imagined mim-
icry condition, participants became aware of the link between mimicry and liking. As a
consequence, participants might have responded with reactance by downgrading their lik-
ing ratings. However, it is important to note that previous research (e.g., Kulesza etal.,
2016) investigating the role of awareness demonstrated that making participants aware
of mimicry behavior does not influence their liking ratings. Only if participants are told
that there is a connection between mimicry and liking does their liking of the confederate
reduce. Thus, although participants in our experiments might have become aware of mim-
icry in the imagined mimicry condition, this should not have affected their liking ratings
as long as they were not aware of the connection between mimicry and liking. Yet an open
question is whether the imagined mimicry condition in the experiments reported here led
to the same degree of awareness as the manipulation used in Kulesza etal.’s (2016) experi-
ment. To answer this question, future research should probe participants for suspicion and
test the degree to which awareness of mimicry influences the effects of mimicry in com-
parison to the effects of imagined mimicry.
Third, empirical studies on the consequences of imagining different states of affairs
show that a key factor may be how easy it is to imagine certain states (Dahl & Hoeffler,
2004; Levav & Fitzsimons, 2006; Petrova & Cialdini, 2005). We did not test in our experi-
ments whether it was easy or difficult for the respondents to imagine that someone would
mimic them. This issue could be included in further research on imagined mimicry.
Fourth, we have to acknowledge that we did not investigate gender differences between
participants and confederates. Although the number of male and female participants was
similar in both experiments and the randomization worked as the ratio between male and
female participants was equal across all experimental conditions, we did not manipulate
whether participants interacted with a male or a female model. Rather, we varied the gen-
der of the models across experiments. While participants interacted with a female model in
Experiment 1, they interacted with a male model in Experiment 2. As we found the same
effects in both experiments, we believe that gender does not contribute to a substantial
degree to our results. Nevertheless, future research should address this issue more directly
by varying the gender of the model within a single experiment.
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243
Journal of Nonverbal Behavior (2022) 46:233–246
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Conclusions
Previous research indicates that being mimicked increases liking for the mimicker.
Research on mental action simulation indicates that merely imagining an action is neu-
rophysiologically similar to actually engaging in this action. Based on this finding, one
might assume that imagining being mimicked leads to an increase in liking too. Our
results clearly speak against this idea by demonstrating that merely imagining being
mimicked does not relate to liking as much as actually being mimicked does.
Funding This research was supported by: NCN (Narodowe Centrum Nauki – Polish National Science Cen-
tre), Preludium Bis 1 grant, granted to Wojciech Kulesza (Number: 2019/35/O/HS6/00420). Open access of
this article was financed by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education in Poland under the 2019–2022
program, Regional Initiative of Excellence", Project Number 012/RID/2018/19.
Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License,
which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long
as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Com-
mons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article
are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the
material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not
permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly
from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.
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Automatic imitation is the finding that movement execution is facilitated by compatible and impeded by incompatible observed movements. In the past 15 years, automatic imitation has been studied to understand the relation between perception and action in social interaction. Although research on this topic started in cognitive science, interest quickly spread to related disciplines such as social psychology, clinical psychology, and neuroscience. However, important theoretical questions have remained unanswered. Therefore, in the present meta-analysis, we evaluated seven key questions on automatic imitation. The results, based on 161 studies containing 226 experiments, revealed an overall effect size of g<sub>z</sub> = 0.95, 95% CI [0.88, 1.02]. Moderator analyses identified automatic imitation as a flexible, largely automatic process that is driven by movement and effector compatibility, but is also influenced by spatial compatibility. Automatic imitation was found to be stronger for forced choice tasks than for simple response tasks, for human agents than for nonhuman agents, and for goalless actions than for goal-directed actions. However, it was not modulated by more subtle factors such as animacy beliefs, motion profiles, or visual perspective. Finally, there was no evidence for a relation between automatic imitation and either empathy or autism. Among other things, these findings point toward actor–imitator similarity as a crucial modulator of automatic imitation and challenge the view that imitative tendencies are an indicator of social functioning. The current meta-analysis has important theoretical implications and sheds light on longstanding controversies in the literature on automatic imitation and related domains.
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It is widely known that individuals have a tendency to imitate each other. However, different psychological disciplines assess imitation in different manners. While social psychologists assess mimicry by means of action observation, cognitive psychologists assess automatic imitation with reaction time based measures on a trial-by-trial basis. Although these methods differ in crucial methodological aspects, both phenomena are assumed to rely on similar underlying mechanisms. This raises the fundamental question whether mimicry and automatic imitation are actually correlated. In the present research we assessed both phenomena and did not find a meaningful correlation. Moreover, personality traits such as empathy, autism traits, and traits related to self- versus other-focus did not correlate with mimicry or automatic imitation either. Theoretical implications are discussed.
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In everyday life we actively react to the emotion expressions of others, responding by showing matching, or sometimes contrasting, expressions. Emotional mimicry has important social functions, such as signalling affiliative intent and fostering rapport, and is considered one of the cornerstones of successful interactions. This book provides amultidisciplinary overviewof research into emotionalmimicry and empathy and exploreswhen, how, and why emotional mimicry occurs. Focussing on recent developments in the field, the chapters cover a variety of approaches and research questions, such as the role of literature in empathy and emotional mimicry, the most important brain areas involved in the mimicry of emotions, the effects of specific psychopathologies onmimicry, why smilingmay be a special case in mimicry, whetherwe can alsomimic vocal emotional expressions, individual differences in mimicry, and the role of social contexts in mimicry.