Mimicry and Attraction in Romantic Relationships

How do you get someone to like you, find you more appealing, and help make them comfortable around you? How do you balance flirting and building rapport with a date or mate? In past articles, we have looked at these relationship-building goals separately. For example, we’ve discussed how to break the ice with a new partner, how your personality can make you more appealing, and ways you can build better rapport through conversation.

While effective, this approach can be a multi-step process. It also requires you to be good with conversation. That realization sent me back to the research literature to look for something simple and (at least partially) non-verbal too. While digging, I found research on the persuasive and seductive power of mimicry…

Research on Mimicry and Seduction

The research I found was conducted by Nicolas Gueguen (2009) and explored the effects of both verbal and nonverbal mimicry on the judgements of speed dating participants. Specifically, Gueguen (2009) asked three female research assistants to take part in six speed dating sessions. The women were asked to randomly mimic (or not mimic) the male speed dating partners, as they were assigned to them every five minutes.

When the women mimicked the men, they were asked to do so both verbally and nonverbally. Particularly, the women research assistants repeated some of the words, statements, and verbal expressions used by the men (“It’s fun,” “That’s great” …). The women also copied some of the nonverbal body language of the men, after a 3-4 second delay (e.g. stroking face, scratching ear, folding arms …). Each of these verbal and nonverbal mimicry behaviors were performed about once per minute of interaction. Otherwise, the women were instructed to smile and respond to the men consistently, while asking  the same few questions too.

After the conclusion of the speed dating session, the male participants were asked to rate the female research assistants (and actual female speed daters) on a number of criteria. The results indicated that the men ranked the female research assistant higher as a choice for a date when the  assistant had mimicked them. Mimicry also significantly increased the men’s ratings of the quality of the interaction, as well as the sexual attractiveness of the women too.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find another study replicating this mimicry effect for men in a dating context. Nevertheless, Gueguen, Jacob, and Martin (2009) did provide a review of the research on mimicry in social interactions in general. The group reviewed numerous studies and found, when any individual mimics the behavior of another, they become more liked by that other person. In addition, mimicry also shows additional pro-social and persuasive effects–as copying the behavior of others also makes them more helpful and likely to agree to a request. Therefore, it may benefit men to mimic as well, especially to help build rapport with their romantic partners and be more likable too.

Mimicry and Your Love Life

Given the research, it appears that occasionally copying the verbal and nonverbal behaviors of a romantic partner can have some positive effects. Specifically, if you’d like a date or mate to feel more comfortable, agreeable, or like you more, mimicking some of their behavior may help. Such copying behavior may even increase their perception of your sexual attractiveness too.

Beyond that, such mimicry can be combined with other flirting and nonverbal behaviors that aid romantic interactions. It can also help, particularly if you notice and copy the positive and open body language of your date or mate too. Repeating the words or phrases of your partner can enhance other techniques for making conversation more attractive and help highlight topics that create various romantic feelings as well.

Overall then, whether you are looking to attract someone new or rekindle the romance in your existing relationship, a bit of mimicry might help. Therefore, on occasion, copy your partner’s gestures. Repeat a word or phrase now and again. You may just find it makes them like you more, increases their comfort around you, and improves the romance too!

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© 2017 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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