At two bars in France, three women attended speed-dating sessions with specific instructions from a research team: mimic certain men they met, and take pains not to mimic others.
For the uninitiated, speed-dating is a system where a large group of singles are paired off and placed at tables for short “dates” of about five minutes. When the organizers call time, half of the couple—in this case the men—get up and move to the next table. The system repeats until every possible couple has met. At the end of the session, participants indicate whom they’d like to see again. When there’s a match, both parties are informed.
In the study, led by Nicolas Guéguen, the men were chosen at random. For the three women confederates, the mimicry took both verbal and non-verbal forms. For example, women were instructed to repeat the men’s phrases (such as “It’s great”; “It’s fun”) and to use the men’s exact words when answering questions (as in: “You really do this?” “Yes, I really do this.”) Non-verbal mimicking involved mirroring actions like touching one’s face, folding arms, scratching ears, etc.
After the sessions, the men being studied were asked to list, by order of preference, the five women they would like to provide their contact information to. They also took surveys about the confederates—how much did they enjoy speaking with them, how attractive were they? The results showed that the male participants most enjoyed their interactions with the mimickers and also found them more attractive than the other women.
Since the experiment only examined men’s attraction to women, it doesn’t shed light on whether this is a universal human behavior (we prefer people who act like us) or whether this is particular to men and romantic attraction (mimicry could be perceived as deference).
However, earlier studies show evidence for the former theory. As Guéguen notes, research has found that counselors who mirror their clients’ body language are seen as more empathetic. Researchers who mimic the mannerisms of study participants are better-liked and more likely to get assistance (for example, to have a participant pick up a pen they dropped). And waiters who repeat the orders of their customers in their exact language received significantly higher tips.
“Mimicry could serve to foster relationships with others,” writes Guéguen. “This behavior could serve a ‘social glue’ function, binding people together and creating harmonious relationships.”
Or, at the very least, possibly getting them to a second date.
Sara Eckel is a personal coach and the author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at saraeckel.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Ask her any questions here.