mise à jour du
5 novembre 2006
Journal of Research
in Personality
Self-monitoring and mimicry
of positive and negative social behaviors
Sarah Estow, Jeremy P. Jamieson, Jennifer R. Yates
Department of Psychology, Colby College, USA


Tous les articles sur la contagion du bâillement
All articles about contagious yawning
This study examined the role that self-monitoring plays in behavioral mimicry. Participants were exposed to videotaped targets who were laughing, yawning, frowning, or neutral in their expression. Participants' behavioral mimicry while viewing the targets was recorded. It was hypothesized that higher self-monitors would show greater mimicry than lower self-monitors. It was also hypothesized that participants would respond differently to positive and negative target expressions. Participants who scored higher in self-monitoring did mimic the targets' behaviors more often, and participants showed less mimicry of frowns than of laughs or yawns.
1. Introduction
While engrossed in conversation, do you find yourself yawning because your conversational partner yawns? Smiling because they're smiling? Or perhaps frowning because they're frowning? If so, have you ever thought it odd that you seemed to "catch" the other person's behavior? Are some people more prone to this phenomenon than others? Do we mimic yawning the same way we mimic other expressive behaviors, or does yawning mimicry perhaps follow a different pattern? One way to explore this phenomenon is to examine the relationship between individual differences and mimicry of different types of expressive behaviors, including yawning, that convey different states to one's communication partner.
Researchers have demonstrated that mimicry plays an important role in social interactions (van Baaren, Holland, Kawakami, & van Knippenberg, 2004), that it is often quite automatic and effortless (Chartrand, Maddux, & Lakin, 2005), and that it can be observed even in very small children (de Oliveira & Krause, 1989). These findings indicate that mimicry behaviors are some of the most basic examples of humans' behaving in response to information present in their environment. The fact that young children are capable of mimicking so readily suggests that these behaviors are outside of conscious control and may be "hard-wired" in the human brain.
Although adults often mimic spontaneously, there is evidence that they are rarely aware that they are doing so (Chartrand et al., 2005). In other words, performing the same behaviors as those with whom we are interacting appears to be a natural and easy task. As Chartrand and colleagues (2005) write, "Mimicry is a manifestation of the perception-behavior link at its most fundamental level. It is no more than copying another's observables and requires only the ability to perceive the behavior in the other person and the ability to form the behavior oneself" (p. 335). For instance, when hearing background laughter during a television program, viewers tend to laugh in response even if they know the laughter is "canned" (Provine, 2000).
Why might we be so readily predisposed to perform mimicry? Some writers argue that mimicry is both adaptive and functional insofar as it enhances affiliation and creates social bonds (Chartrand et al., 2005; Lakin & Chartrand, 2003). Evidence exists that mimicry leads to improved interpersonal rapport (and vice versa) (Chartrand & Bargh, 1999), and that it increases when affiliation goals are primed (Lakin & Chartrand, 2003). Presumably, the more concerned one is with smooth and positive social interactions, the more likely one will be, perhaps even outside of one's awareness, to mimic the behavior of one's interactional partners.
Clearly, before a behavior can be "caught," it must first be perceived. Early work examining this issue supports the idea that individuals differ in their perceptual selection and sensitivity depending on their interests, needs, and values (Goldstein, 1962; Haigh & Fiske, 1952; Postman, Bruner, & McGinnies, 1948). More recently, there is evidence that perspective-taking ability (Chartrand & Bargh, 1999) and an interdependent self-construal, or how important one views one's relationships with others to be (van Baaren, Maddux, Chartrand, de Bouter, & van Knippenberg, 2003), are both linked to mimicry behaviors. Selfmonitoring is another well-studied individual difference that has effectively predicted how people behave during social interactions, and because behavioral mimicry must, by definition, involve some degree of social interaction, self-monitoring is an attractive candidate to be examined in conjunction with mimicry behavior.
Self-monitoring is defined as the degree to which one is attuned to the way one presents oneself in social situations and the degree to which one adjusts one's performance to create a desired impression (Ickes & Barnes, 1977; Lennox & Wolfe, 1984; Snyder, 1974). Individuals scoring high in self-monitoring better perceive socially-relevant stimuli than their low self-monitoring counterparts (Baumeister & Twenge, 2003). These studies indicate that high self-monitors use the information present in their social environment to adjust their self-presentation. A variety of behaviors and speech techniques can be used to adjust one's self-presentation in different social situations, but one simple means of adjusting self-presentation is to copy the behavior of others.
Although we all can and do easily mimic others (Chartrand et al., 2005), high self-monitors may be even more likely to mimic than low self-monitors because, by definition, they reliably adapt their behavior for self-presentational purposes (Baumeister & Twenge, 2003; Lennox & Wolfe, 1984; Snyder, 1974). In addition, they are more concerned with having positive social interactions than low self-monitors (Ickes, Holloway, Stinson, & Hoodenpyle, in press). Thus, if mimicry provides a means to positively adjust one's self-presentation or serves a rapport-building function during social interactions (Chartrand & Bargh, 1999; Lakin, Jefferis, Cheng, & Chartrand, 2003; Lakin & Chartrand, 2003), one would expect that high self-monitors would display increased rates of mimicry. Perhaps mimicry shifts from a simple, automatic stimulus-response process to a motivated and controlled rapportbuilding process as one moves from low to high along the self-monitoring spectrum (Ickes et al., in press).
Although the evidence is strong that people easily mimic the behaviors of others, we also examined whether they mimic social information differing in emotional valence with equal frequency. There is a great deal of evidence, from research using a variety of methods and approaches, that negative stimuli have a greater impact and draw more attention than positive stimuli (Fiske, 1980; Pratto & Bargh, 1991; Skowronski & Carlston, 1989; Smith, Cacioppo, Larsen, & Chartrand, 2003; Vrana & Gross, 2004). When it comes to processes like impression formation and person perception, negative information yields disproportionate power. If enhanced perception leads to increased mimicry and we have enhanced perception of negative cues, we might expect greater mimicry of negative behaviors. On the other hand, if mimicry is performed primarily to build rapport, displaying negative behaviors would run counter to that goal, and therefore one might predict more mimicry of positive behaviors regardless of attention.
These two theoretical positions are clearly at odds with each other, but it should be possible to test these contrasting positions using self-monitoring as a starting point. There is evidence that high self-monitors on the whole are highly motivated to display positive affect and are concerned with maintaining smooth social interactions (Ickes et al., in press). In other words, they are "motivated impression managers" (Ickes et al., in press). But selfmonitoring is comprised of several different dimensions, including ability to modify selfpresentation ("Ability"), or how facile one is at adjusting "performance," and Sensitivity to the expressive behaviors of others ("Sensitivity"), or how well one can "read" others (Lennox & Wolfe, 1984). Presumably, if there is a positive relationship between the Ability factor and mimicry, we would expect to find more mimicry of positive behaviors relative to negative behaviors because this would serve a rapport-building purpose. However, if there is a positive relationship between the Sensitivity factor and mimicry, an "enhanced perception" explanation might suffice, and one would expect to find more mimicry of negative behaviors because they are more salient than positive behaviors.
The present study was designed to examine the relationship between self-monitoring and the mimicry of facial behaviors conveying states of differing valence. In this study, we predicted that all participants would mimic to some extent. Those scoring higher in selfmonitoring were predicted to mimic more frequently overall than those with lower selfmonitoring scores. Differences were also expected to depend on the valence of the targets' expressed state. If negative stimuli receive more attention and heightened attention leads to greater mimicking, participants should mimic frowns more than laughs or yawns, particularly those participants scoring higher in Sensitivity. This pattern of results would support a perceptual salience explanation. On the other hand, if the rapport-building purpose of mimicry is paramount, participants should mimic laughs more than frowns or yawns, particularly those who score high in Ability. This pattern of results would support a rapportbuilding explanation.
4. Discussion
Given the unconscious and automatic nature of mimicry, it is not surprising that our participants showed mimicry behaviors in all of our expression conditions. What is interesting, however, is that the pattern of effects was moderated by self-monitoring and the nature of the target behaviors themselves. As predicted, those higher in self-monitoring showed greater mimicry when compared to those who scored lower in self-monitoring.
Research findings demonstrate that increased perception of a stimulus serves to increase the likelihood that one will unconsciously mimic the perceived stimulus (Chartrand & Bargh, 1999). Therefore one explanation for the high-self-monitors' increased mimicry is the greater sensitivity to social cues that are part and parcel of being a high self-monitor (Baumeister & Twenge, 2003; Lennox & Wolfe, 1984; Snyder, 1974). In this sense, enhanced perception of the target behavior increases the likelihood that participants would unconsciously mimic the perceived stimulus (Chartrand & Bargh, 1999). Note, however, that a strictly attention-based account would predict that frowns would be mimicked more than laughs or yawns, because negatively-valenced expressions should be more salient than either positive or neutral ones.
This reasoning leads us to consider the strong effects we found for the different types of expressions that were modeled. Although there is ample evidence that people pay disproportionate attention to negative social information (Fiske, 1980; Pratto & Bargh, 1991; Skowronski & Cariston, 1989; Smith et al., 2003; Vrana & Gross, 2004) and increased perception generally leads to greater mimicry (Chartrand & Bargh, 1999), our findings indicate that participants mimicked frowns less than both yawns and laughs, supporting a rapport-building explanation rather than an enhanced perception explanation. In other words, if mimicry is primarily for building rapport (Lakin & Chartrand, 2003), this relationship should be moderated by the negativity of the target behavior. Frowning at someone would presumably make rapport-building less likely. Therefore, it appears likely that our participants were dealing with competing motivations: to mimic in order to build rapport but to avoid frowning which might jeopardize said rapport. 6 The fact that participants scoring higher in Sensitivity also mimicked frowns less further supports this explanation.
The fact that those participants who scored relatively high on the Ability subscale showed increased mimicry of both laughing and yawning suggests some form of strategic control. The fact that Sensitivity was unrelated to laughter mimicry further suggests some sort of strategic behavior. It is possible that individuals with an enhanced ability to modify how they present themselves may be more consciously motivated to display a rapportbuilding expression like laughter or smiling, while inhibiting a negative expression like frowning. Those without this ability would be expected to be, and per our findings actually were, less likely to mimic laughter or frowning.
Although our 7-s video clips of targets likely reduced participant boredom, it is not clear whether increased exposure or more interactions would have strengthened the observed effects. Longer exposure might increase the amount of empathy felt towards a target, which has been shown to be positively correlated with contagious yawning (Platek, Critton, Myers, & Gallup, 2003). However, some might argue that having participants watch video clips of targets hardly constitutes a social interaction. Therefore, additional research should be conducted using a more interactive design, perhaps involving trained confederates displaying differing facial expressions rather than videotaped targets. Still, given the strong relationship between behavioral mimicry and self-monitoring in the present study despite brief exposure times and non-interactive, silent video displays, it is expected that increased exposure or more authentic interactions would only strengthen the kinds of effects that we have reported.
The present study reaffirms the frequent occurrence of behavioral mimicry while also providing additional evidence that individual differences, those related to different aspects of self-monitoring, may play a role in one's likelihood of mimicking another person's behaviors. The present findings also indicate that not all behaviors are equally likely to be mimicked. Perhaps both mimicry and self-monitoring are not as effortless and automatic as was once believed, but can be consciously directed processes that help us achieve our social interaction goals (Ickes et al., in press).