Summer Series #6: Copying others: the key to connection...

Have you ever been engrossed in conversation with someone, only to notice that you’re mimicking each other?

Perhaps you’re both sitting with a similar posture, legs crossed while playing with your hair. Maybe you use similar slang words to describe a situation, or you match each other’s speech inflections. In a foreign country, you might notice your accent moulding to fit those of the locals.

Mimicked body movements, accents, and language are all examples of a phenomenon called the chameleon effect.

The chameleon effect refers to instances where people unconsciously match each other’s language or behavior during a social interaction. The chameleon effect works as an unconscious strategy of social connection, or ‘social glue’.

When the chameleon effect is present in our interactions, we tend to like the person we’re interacting with better, and we perceive the interactions we have with that person as more successful and influential.

What does the mean for giving and getting advice on Sooth? We may find ourselves drawn to favour the advice of those who communicate like us, regardless of how effective their proposed solution actually is. Alternatively, when giving advice, we might find ourselves unconsciously communicating in a style that matches the advice seeker, to make our advice more persuasive.

So if we’re aware of the impact the chameleon effect might have in advice giving and receiving situations, what can we do about it?

Well, if we notice others mimicking our language or communication style while advice seeking on Sooth, it’s important to consider the following: Although we may feel a greater sense of connection to the advice giver, we must remember to weigh up how effective the piece of advice they’ve proposed actually is for our circumstances.

On the other hand, when we’re giving advice, adopting the language of the advice seeker may help to build rapport, and ultimately increase the chances that the advice seeker will take your advice.

Consideration of the chameleon effect in advice giving and seeking situations on Sooth may help us to construct advice that is maximally influential, or alternatively help us to avoid taking bad advice on board, because of how it’s been communicated.


This post was written by Sooth Intern Kate Loveys

Kate is a second year grad student in the Dept of Psychological Medicine, University of Auckland, New Zealand. Kate is interested in the role of technology as applied to psychology and health. She researches illness perceptions and nocebo/placebo effects, specifically the role of social influence in producing nocebo effects with food. Her most recent project looks at why people think they're intolerant to foods when medically, they're not.