The Chameleon Effect is a Strange Phenomenon in Which We Tend To Unconsciously Mimic The Speech Pattern, Tone of Voice, and Mood of Someone We Have Spent a Lot of Time With

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In my country, Illonggos have a certain twang when they speak. I can compare this to the southern accent you can find in America, because it is so distinct from the accent we have in the highlands. I found it really interesting when my mother picked up the trait. I was aware that she worked mostly with Illonggos, but I never really did expect her to pick up their twang. But hey, she had been working with them for years, so I’m not really surprised.

Before, it was only when she was in her office, but now she even does it at home. It’s funny, being a Bicolana raised in Baguio having an Illonggo twang? Now that’s something.

It’s called The Chameleon Effect, I discovered. And when I tried to observe the different mannerisms each of us have in my group of friends, we also unconsciously mimicked each other. It was amusing, it’s like we’re mirroring each other and we hardly notice!

The chameleon effect is our natural, nonconscious tendency of mimicry of postures, mannerism, facial expressions, and other behaviors of one’s interaction parters, such that one’s behavior passively and unintentionally changes to match that of others in one’s current social environment

In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Chartrand and Bargh asked 72 college students to sit down individually with an experimenter and discuss a set of photographs. With half the subjects, experimenters maintained a neutral, relaxed seated position. But they mimicked the posture, movements and mannerisms of the other subjects, crossing their legs or twirling their hair when subjects did. At the study’s end, students whose moves had been imitated rated their experimenters as more likable, and reported having had smoother interactions with them.

People build rapport with mimicry. Outside the laboratory setting, the chameleon effect happens naturally and frequently – just like what happened to my mother. In other words, imitation is truly the sincerest form of flattery—and a sort of social glue.

Individuals usually do it almost instantly that they are not aware of it, and in doing so, it increases their likeability. You also do it even with strangers, even when you only just met them. Empathic people were also found to do it more often. “Those who pay more attention mimic more.” says Chartrand, and make more friends in the process.

Bargh suggests that this unconscious mimicry could lead to greater group cohesion and coordination. But let me ask you this, has it worked for you? Go and observe. When you are in a group of people, try to see if the chameleon effect is at play. How are the relations? Have you had an experience where it conflicts with Bargh’s suggestion? I’d love to hear from you!

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