The Chameleon effect: Are you a doer or a target?

compiled by: Chelsi Nehoya

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Have you ever found yourself imitating the postures, facial expressions or sounds of someone else during social interactions? Believe it or not, it is quite normal to do that and there is even a term for it, the chameleon effect.

It was introduced by John Bargh and Tanya Chartrand who state that such actions are not deliberate or intentional, but rather to match with that of others in the same social circle (Chartrand & Bargh, 1999). Furthermore, the chameleon effect relates to people who get along and as a result, increases the chance of likeability between people. In such a case, one notices that such people tend to behave in a similar way which makes the interaction process that much easier.

Bargh and Chartrand conducted experiments to examine the chameleon effect. Their focus was to determine whether people unconsciously copy each other even if they are strangers and if this increases their likeability (Explorable.com, 2019).

The Experiment

In the first experiment, the researchers asked 78 individuals to have a one-on-one discussion with them. Each researcher made different gestures where one would smile more than the other and one did more foot waggling than the other (Explorable.com, 2019).

To determine whether certain gestures affect the interaction between the researchers and participants, the participants took part in a second experiment. Once again, the participants had a conversation with a researcher. With one half of the participants, the researchers remained neutral and relaxed. With the other half, the researchers copied the movements of the participants such as crossing their legs. They were then asked to rate on a scale of 1 – 9 how much they liked the researcher (Explorable.com, 2019).

In the third experiment, 55 participants completed a perspective-taking questionnaire, which is the extent to which people are open to others’ perspectives, together with a measure of empathy. Participants sat opposite a researcher, who mimicked the behaviour of participants just like in the first experiment (Explorable.com, 2019).

Results of Experiment

In the first study, the results concluded that the participants copied the researcher who was more of a stranger to them, as opposed to the researcher that actually copied their behaviour (Explorable.com, 2019).

In the second experiment, the participants who were being imitated rated their researcher as more pleasant with better interaction. This meant that mimicking indeed increase the liking of the researcher. On the other hand, the researcher who did not mimick was rated slightly less likeable (Explorable.com, 2019).

In the third experiment, the researchers concluded that participants who were open to other people’s ideas mimicked more compared to those who were not. In relation to empathy, people’s empathic nature did not determine the rate of mimicry (Explorable.com, 2019).

To conclude the experiment, people find others likeable who naturally copy their actions (Explorable.com, 2019).

On the contrary, Fader (2018) states that the chameleon effect has two types of behaviour: intentional mimicking and unconscious mimicking. Fader (2018) continues by saying that people avoid forming relationships with others when they notice they are being imitated. One can even say it seems rude especially when it is done by a stranger that is why timing is important. It should appear natural instead of intentional.

References:

Chartrand, T.L. & Bargh, J.A. (1999). The chameleon effect: the perception-behaviour link and social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 76(6), 893-910.

Explorble.com. (2019). Chameleon Effect. Retrieved from https://explorable.com/chameleon-effectFader, S. (2018). What Is The Chameleon Effect And Is It Real? Retrieved from https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/behavior/what-is-the-chameleon-effect-and-is-it-real/