While subtle forms of mimicking mannerisms and body language can be useful in social situations, it might not have any benefit in the boardroom, research has shown.
Scientists have discovered excessive copycatting in a job interview situation leaves an employer thinking you are incompetent, untrustworthy and not very likeable.
A study has shown that – much like the mocking playground game of parroting – excessive mimicry of the wrong person can be annoying.
Studies have shown that gentle imitation usually acts as a ‘social glue’ in human relationships, fostering rapport and trust.
Two people who like each other will strengthen their bond by unconsciously mirroring each other’s mannerism in a subtle way, such as leaning forward in close synchrony.
But in recent years, mirroring has been used as conscious strategy by people who want to succeed in business.
The wrong impression: Those observed mirroring a ‘boss’s’ body language were viewed negatively
However, the new research suggests this could cost your reputation and refraining from imitation might be a more shrewd move.
The study was undertaken by the University of California’s psychology department and other philosophers.
Piotr Winkielman, a professor of psychology at the university in San Diego, said: ‘Mimicry is a crucial part of social intelligence. But it is not enough to simply know how to mimic.
‘It’s also important to know when and when not to. The success of mirroring depends on mirroring the right people at the right time for the right reasons. Sometimes the socially intelligent thing to do is not to imitate.’
The study asked people to watch several stage videotaped interviews, some of which featured a friendly interviewer while, in others, the same person was unapproachable.
The people being interviewed in the videos either mirrored the interviewer’s simple mannerisms – such as leg-crossing or chin-touching – or they refrained.
Interviewees were then evaluated on their general competence, trustworthiness and likeability by participants.
Despite the fact that the participants were not instructed to watch for mimicry and reported no awareness of it, it still influenced their evaluations.
Interviewees who mimicked the unfriendly ‘boss’ were judged to be less competent than those who didn’t and their unconscious mirroring was observed as an error.
Professor Winkielman added: ‘It’s good to have the capacity to mimic. But an important part of social intelligence is knowing how to deploy this capacity in a selective, intelligent, context-dependent manner, and understanding, even implicitly, when mirroring can reflect badly on you.’
The research is to be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science.