Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Creepy
Want to give someone the creeps? Going overboard when it comes to imitation is the swiftest way says co-author of a new study, Pontus Leander, a social psychologist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.
Friends frequently copy speech patterns and body language, a type of imitation called behavioral mimicry. Psychologists suspect that this behavior, which usually goes unnoticed by either party, builds trust. It’s when the mimicry goes to far that people begin to take notice, engendering feelings of weirdness about the situation and individual.
To put this idea to the test, Leander and colleagues designed a simple experiment where 40 college undergraduates were interviewed. Interviewers modified their behavior ever so slightly from person to person when questioning the students. Some of the interviews found the experimenter acting friendly, using slang terms, while others were more formal. Further, the questioner avoided mimicking body language in some interviews, and mimicking the actions of interviewees in others.
Students then filled out a survey designed aimed at finding out how cold or warm the experimenter’s actions made them.
The results of the test aren’t surprising according to Science Now:
“Individuals that describe themselves as lonely, for instance, take more frequent hot showers than their peers. And, sure enough, the students in the study reported that they felt colder when the experimenter’s social cues seemed somehow off—that is, when she was either acting friendly but not mimicking or seemed professional and did mimic.”
By setting boundaries and expectations for the interview up front, the experimenter’s bizarre actions and mimicry sent a conflicting message that the students found weird. The instinct of the students told them something was not right, leading to accurate feelings of creepiness.
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