Mimicry on Pro Social Behavior the Ability to help in Emergency Situations

Amy Minzey's image for:
"Mimicry on Pro Social Behavior the Ability to help in Emergency Situations"
Image by: 

It has been shown that individuals whose body posture and gross movements have been mimicked will show an increase in pro-social behavior. Could this extend to emergency situations as well? In the present study, eight participants were given an interview during which they were either mimicked or not mimicked. Afterwards, they heard sound stimuli which appeared to be an emergency. We attempted to see if a mimicked participant would come to aid in an emergency faster than a non-mimicked participant. We hypothesized that those participants in the experimental (mimicked) condition would in fact help faster and more often than those in the control (non-mimicked) condition. Our results, however, were insignificant and did not confirm this hypothesis. This is possibly due to our small sample size and the environment in which the experiment took place.

Studies have shown time and again that humans subconsciously mimic each other through their physical movements and expressions. This phenomenon is known as behavioral mimicry. Chartrand and Bargh (1999) refer to behavioral mimicry as the chameleon effect, and describe it as the tendency to adopt the postures, gestures, and mannerisms of interaction partners. They add that this type of mimicry occurs outside of conscious awareness, and without any intent to mimic or imitate.
It has been shown through many studies that mimicry increases liking and rapport between individuals; that mimicked individuals behave more pro-socially, and have a more positive experience about the interaction. Lakin, Jefferis, Cheng, and Chartrand (2003) proposed that the purpose of mimicry has evolved to serve a social function; it increases affiliation, which serves to foster relationships with others. People feel more comfortable with those who behave as they do and do not generally take conscious notice that they are being mimicked (van Baaren 2005).
Chartrand and Bargh (1999) hypothesized that the perception of another's behavior increases the tendency for the perceiver to behave in a similar manner, and that this is an entirely passive and non-conscious phenomenon. They argue that perception causes similar behavior and the perception of the similar behavior on the part of the other creates shared feelings of empathy and rapport. The first experiment in their research showed that participants mimicked each other through facial expressions (smiling or not smiling) and behaviors (foot-shaking or face-rubbing). Experiment two showed that when mimicked, the interaction between individuals is smoother and liking is increased. The final experiment showed that dispositionally empathic individuals exhibit the chameleon effect to a greater extent than do other people.
Studies have shown that mimicry plays an important role in social interactions. It has been known to increase empathy, liking, and rapport. Chartrand and Bargh (1999) instructed an experimenter (confederate) to take over the posture (upper body positioning) and mannerisms of those participants in their experimental condition. Their results demonstrated that participants who had been mimicked by the experimenter liked the experimenter more, and perceived the interaction as running more smoothly than did participants in the control group, those who were not mimicked.
Mimicry has also been shown to increase helping behavior because it increases positive mood. Carlson, Charlin, and Miller (1988) suggest that individuals who feel positive will tend to evaluate a given pro-social opportunity more favorably than will others, and therefore will more readily offer assistance. Liebhart (1972) says that a person is more likely to help an acquaintance rather than someone they do not know, even if they only met the acquaintance briefly. However, van Baaren, Holland, Kawakami, and van Knippenberg (2003) conducted research that showed consequences of mimicry are not restricted to behavior directed toward the mimicker, but also included behavior directed toward people not directly involved in the mimicry situation. In their first experiment, an experimenter interviewed participants while mimicking half of them, and remaining in a neutral position with the other half. Afterwards, she dropped several pens on the floor. Those in the mimicked condition picked up the pens more often than those not mimicked. In their second experiment, the procedure was the same, except after the interview a new experimenter came into the room and dropped several pens. Participants in the mimicked condition still picked up the pens more often that those in the control condition. For their final experiment, the procedure was similar to experiment two; however, in this experiment, subjects were paid for their participation. Afterwards, they were asked to fill out a questionnaire about a charity organization, and were told that when they were finished they could donate money to the charity if they wished. As with the previous experiments, those in the mimicked condition helped more by donating money more often than those in the non-mimicked condition. These results suggest that the effects of mimicry are not simply due to increased liking for the mimicker, but are due to increased pro-social orientation in general.
As has been shown above, mimicry increases helping behavior. Will mimicking a participant increase their willingness to help in an emergency? To test this, we conducted a study using a between-subjects experimental design. Participants were given an interview, during which they were either mimicked or not mimicked. Afterwards, they heard sound stimuli which appeared to be an emergency, and were timed from the first sound until the moment they opened the door to see how long it took them to come to aid. We predicted the results to show that those in the experimental (mimicked) condition will come to aid faster than those in the control (not mimicked) condition. We hypothesized that participants in the mimicked (experimental) condition will demonstrate more pro-social behavior than non-mimicked (control) participants; specifically, that mimicked participants will help more quickly in an emergency situation than non-mimicked participants.

The goal of the present study was to show that mimicking an individual will increase their willingness to aid in an emergency situation, and that they will come to aid faster than non-mimicked individuals. To test this, an interview was conducted with each participant individually. The participants were randomly assigned to be either mimicked or not mimicked during the interview. After the interview was completed, the participant was given a mood survey to check whether the mimicking had an effect on their mood. Following this, the participant would hear a loud bang and scream followed by a crash and the sound of glass breaking. The participant was then timed from the moment of the first sound until they opened the door, in order to see how long it took for them to come to aid.
Twelve students at the University of Michigan, Flint participated in the study for extra credit. Four participant data had to be discarded because they either previously heard the sound stimuli, opened the door before the sound stimuli began and saw the materials, or opened the door only to give the experimenter the mood survey not because of the sounds they heard. Therefore, we had a total of eight participants (three control, five experimental) for our final data.
Before the interview, the participant was asked to sign a consent form. The interview was given by a male experimenter, and contained several questions concerning the participant's health and health perceptions. After the interview, the participant was given a mood survey in the form of a Likert scale, and the experimenter left the room. Following this, one of the experimenters in another room popped a balloon to create the loud bang and then played a computer recording consisting of a female scream, a twenty-second pause, a crash, and then the sound of glass breaking. Another experimenter was waiting outside the door with a stopwatch to time the participant. Afterwards, one of the experimenters gave the participant a full debriefing.

The setting took place in the university's psychology lab area. The participant was placed in one room while the other experimenters and sound stimuli were played in the room directly next to this. There were also other people and other experiments being conducted in several rooms along this hallway; a possible problem discussed later on.
Prior to meeting with each participant, the experimenter would flip a coin to randomly assign the participant to either the experimental (mimicry) or control condition. This was our independent variable. The subject was first given a consent form which they read and signed. The experimenter would then sit opposite the participant and explain to them that he would be asking them several questions about their health, having them fill out a survey, and then having them do a cooperative task with another female participant. The interview would then begin. If the participant was assigned to the experimental condition, the experimenter would mimic, or copy, their body positioning and gross hand/foot positions and movements. If assigned to the control condition, the experimenter would remain in a neutral position for the entire time. After the experimenter finished the interview, he gave the participant a mood survey in the form of a Likert scale. The experimenter told the participant that while he/she was doing the survey, he (experimenter) was going to get the other participant, and to wait there for them to return. The experimenter left the room while leaving the door partially open. After two minutes had passed, another experimenter began playing the recording of the sound stimuli. First heard was a violent bang (balloon popping) and a female scream. Twenty-two seconds later, a crash and the sound of glass shattering was heard. At the same time, a third experimenter was standing outside the door with a stopwatch to record the amount of time that passed between the sound of the violent bang and the moment the participant opened the door. This was the dependent variable. If after three minutes the participant had not come to the door, the experiment was terminated. After this, the experiment was finished and a different experimenter met with the participant to give them a full debriefing. This consisted of a funnel debriefing to ascertain whether they realized the priming mechanism; a general debriefing telling them about the experiment, what really happened, why it happened, and what was really being studied; and also giving the participant an information sheet to take home that told about the experiment, references for information if they wished to find out more about this type of research, and contact information of the experimenters if they wished to find out the results of the study.

A chi-square analysis was conducted in order to examine the veracity of participant's susceptibility to help when primed with mimicked behaviors where frequencies can be seen via the contingency table. The analysis was therefore determined from a 2 (mimicked vs. non-mimicked) x 2 (helped vs. not helped) chi-square test. The test for independence did not reach statistical significance, x (1, N = 8) = 0.686, p > .05. Therefore, we can assume that participants who were mimicked did not significantly alter their behaviors, by way of helping, contrary to those who were not mimicked.
Our hypothesis was that those in the mimicked condition would come to aid quicker than those in the control condition. Due to the insignificant findings, this hypothesis was not confirmed.

In the current study, we wished to see if mimicked participants would come to aid faster in an emergency than non-mimicked participants. To test this, an experimenter conducted an interview with a randomly assigned participant, during which he either mimicked or did not mimic the subject. After the interview, the participant heard sound stimuli which appeared to be an emergency. An experimenter timed the participant to see how long it took them to come to aid. We hypothesized that participants in the experimental/mimicked condition would come to aid faster than those in the control condition. Out of the eight participants, only one came to help. Due to this, our results were insignificant, and did not confirm our hypothesis.
Our results did not confirm that mimicked participants will help more; however, in most other research looking at the effects of mimicry on pro-social behavior, results showed that participants are more helpful when they have been mimicked. Related research shows that when mimicked, participants will not only help the person who has mimicked them, but also people they have no prior knowledge of. Most research done on mimicry and pro-social behavior does not include emergency situations. Social psychological research that does extend to emergencies has been limited to the giving of aid to strangers in brief encounters that often hold potential dangers for helpers. Without being done in a lab setting, participants cannot give consent, and most likely will not be debriefed. This can possibly cause emotional and psychological harm to the participants.
One possible critique for the methods of our experiment is that the sound stimuli may not have been believable as a real emergency. Some of the sounds seemed fake, and were not loud enough. It may have been better to have the stimuli done live, rather than pre-recorded.
Another method critique is the setting we used to conduct the study in. The experiment took place in a corridor where many other experimenters were testing different data in a very small setting. There were many people around talking and creating noise. When the sound stimuli were played, no one else showed any concern. This may have had an effect on the behavior of the participant. They may have thought that since no one else was concerned, they shouldn't be either. Or, they may have thought that since so many other people were around, someone else would probably help.
There were quite a few limitations of our study. The key limitation was the setting. There were too many people around talking; no one else showed concern after the sounds were played (many laughed instead); this type of emergency is unlikely to occur in this area; and the participants knew that several experiments were being run in this area.
Another limitation is our small sample size. Because there were only eight participants, our results cannot be seen as reliable or valid. A larger sample size may show completely different, and significant, results.
If we were to conduct this study again in the future, we would get a larger sample size, and conduct the experiment in a different setting. The experiment should be assessed in a quieter, secluded, laboratory setting. This may provide a greater sense of urgency in the participants, as well as a realistic sense of possible danger. It would also decrease the diffusion of responsibility, which encourages participants to help in an emergency if they believe there is no one else to aid in the situation.
Also, it may be more believable that there is an emergency if the participant sees something prior to the experiment that poses possible danger to a bystander. For example, if the participant saw a person on the top of a ladder trying to put in a light bulb; or, the setting could be near a chemistry lab where a person is working among glass beakers. It would also be better to have the sounds actually occur instead of played from a tape-recorder.
Because our sample size was so small, and our results were insignificant, it would be hard to explain what our study implies. If the sample size was larger and the results the same, we could say that mimicry has no effect on whether or not a participant will help in an emergency. If the results showed that mimicry has an effect on pro-social behavior in emergency situations, then this would show another way in which mimicry plays an important social role.
In the present study, we attempted to see if mimicked participants would come to aid in an emergency faster than non-mimicked participants. We hypothesized that participants primed with mimicry would come to aid faster than those not primed with mimicry. The results of our study were not significant and our hypothesis was not confirmed. Future research is necessary to show if there is any effect of mimicry on helping behavior in emergency situations.


Chartrand, T.L. & Bargh, J.A. (1999). The chameleon effect: The perception-behavior link and
social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 893-910.
Lakin, J.L., Jefferis, V.E., Cheng, C.M., & Chartrand, T.L. (2003). The chameleon effect as
social glue: Evidence for the evolutionary significance of nonconscious mimicry.
Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 27, 145-162.
van Baaren, R.B. (2005). The Parrot Effect: How to Increase Tip Size. Cornell Hotel
Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 46, 79-84.
Carlson, M., Charlin, V., & Miller, N. (1988). Positive Mood and Helping Behavior: A Test of
Six Hypotheses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 211-229.
Liebhart, E.H. (1972). Empathy and Emergency Helping: The Effects of Personality, Self-
concern, and Acquaintance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 8, 404-411.
van Baaren, R.B., Holland, R.W., Kawakami, K., & van Knippenberg, A. (2003). Mimicry and
Pro-social Behavior. Psychological Science, 15, 71-74.

More about this author: Amy Minzey

From Around the Web