Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Chameleon Effect

Photo by fRedi, from the Wikimedia Commons
People will like you more as well as pay attention to you more if you mimic their body language and speech patterns.

There have been a handful of peer-reviewed studies that show subjects perceive others as being more honest and likable when they use verbal and non-verbal mimicry and rapport. The first time I ever heard about this was in a Wired article written by Kevin Poulsen about a study conducted at Standford. The study was conducted in virtual reality, and found that when a virtual person sitting across from the subject mimicked head, and hand movements on a four second delay; not only did the subjects like the virtual person more, they paid more attention to it! What is more concerning about this study is that the presenter was proposing a fictitious new rule that said all students would have to have university identification cards on their person at all times.

The Virtual Reality Experiment at Ohio State
The Wired article by Poulsen describes another study where students liked the picture of a particular presidential candidate (Kerry or Bush) more than the other when their own face was morphed in with one of the candidates. It is interesting considering social psych tells us that we find attractive people more trustworthy. Think of the past presidential elections, has the most attractive candidate not won? Obama and McCain. Bush, Kerry and Gore. Clinton, Bush Sr and Bob Dole.

These studies have also been conducted one-on-on with humans. The Ohio State researchers for the peer reviewed study suggest that everybody actually does this unconsciously. "Matching another person's representational language enhances perceived empathy" says the paper. I know that in the few NLP training videos I have seen, Richard Bandler suggests matching the breathing patterns of your subject.

Another very successful method is called predicate matching. If you don't know what a predicate is, the best way is to do this is to repeat back to the subject the verb phrase of the sentence. If you don't know what that means, you can read a paper Bandler and Grinder published in the eighties. However, their results "weakly supported a claim of enhanced accuracy of understanding on one measure of objective understanding", so take that as you will.

Bandler and Grinder argue that something like predicate matching works because people communicate through different modes of experiencing; they internally represent the world in different ways. People may not understand one another when they use different sensory predicates to relate to similar experiences. If you are more interested in this work, check out the article linked above. Inside you will find all sorts of academic sources which back up their argument.


  1. Very interesting. I've also ready that matching someone's vocabulary will build rapport. All down to the fact that people are more likely to sympathize with someone they perceive to be similar to themselves.


  2. Thats pretty interesting. Thanks for the quality post!

  3. I had never heard of this before! Really cool.

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