Body Language Mimicry

It is said that mimicking a person’s body language helps to create false camaraderie–a manufacturing of attraction, if you will. Conventional wisdom holds that this is because it helps you, the mimicker, empathise. This is false, recent research shows, but not far off; face and body motion mimicry actually “helps you to see them as they want to be seen, rather than as they really are”*.

In interactions, targets either lied or told the truth [about donating to a charity], while observers mimicked or did not mimic the targets’ facial and behavioral movements. Detection of deception was measured directly by observers’ judgments of the extent to which they thought the targets were telling the truth and indirectly by observers’ assessment of targets’ emotions. The results demonstrated that nonmimickers were more accurate than mimickers in their estimations of targets’ truthfulness and of targets’ experienced emotions. […] In the case of deceptive messages, mimicry hinders emotional understanding.

As Hanson says, this manufactured attraction may exist because we are signalling that we are not judging and that we are accepting what is said at face value.

This talk of body language mimicry reminded me of an article in Intelligent Life profiling Simon Lovell–the prolific con man/card shark who evidently uses the technique quite extensively/purposefully in his cons.

“You have to figure out someone’s wants and needs and convince them what you have will fill their emotional void.” A con man is essentially a salesman–a remarkably good one–who excels at making people feel special and understood. A con man validates the victim’s desire to believe he has an edge on other people. […]

Mr Lovell draws people in by mirroring their body language. He breaks their defences by entering their physical space.

*The published article in question is behind a pay wall, hence the link to Overcoming Bias.