Plays Well with Others

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Science  15 Oct 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6002, pp. 296
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6002.296-c

“If you were in Rome, live in the Roman way” is an aphorism adopted by many a visitor to a strange land. Nonverbal behavioral mimicry of a person by another individual often goes unnoticed by either, yet is generally thought to promote togetherness and affiliation and has been found to enhance positive feelings such as liking and trust. Leander et al. describe a series of experiments aimed at assessing how potent this influence might be. They show that Asian-American and African-American students performed better and worse, respectively, on a math test after having been the target of unobtrusive mimicry during a getting-to-know-you conversation, whereas there were no differential gaps for people of the same ethnicities whose gestures and movements had not been mirrored. A similar pattern of stereotype-consistent performance could be induced in men versus women by mimicry; furthermore, the positive and negative increments in math test scores were larger in men and women who thought that these stereotypes reflected societal beliefs, regardless of whether the people personally endorsed those views. An intriguing point raised by these findings is that the affective benefit of fitting in with others might motivate conformist behaviors.

J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 46, 10.1016/j.jesp.2010.09.002 (2010).

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