Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 145–162 | Cite as

The Chameleon Effect as Social Glue: Evidence for the Evolutionary Significance of Nonconscious Mimicry

  • Jessica L. LakinEmail author
  • Valerie E. Jefferis
  • Clara Michelle Cheng
  • Tanya L. Chartrand


The “chameleon effect” refers to the tendency to adopt the postures, gestures, and mannerisms of interaction partners (Chartrand & Bargh, 1999). This type of mimicry occurs outside of conscious awareness, and without any intent to mimic or imitate. Empirical evidence suggests a bi-directional relationship between nonconscious mimicry on the one hand, and liking, rapport, and affiliation on the other. That is, nonconscious mimicry creates affiliation, and affiliation can be expressed through nonconscious mimicry. We argue that mimicry played an important role in human evolution. Initially, mimicry may have had survival value by helping humans communicate. We propose that the purpose of mimicry has now evolved to serve a social function. Nonconscious behavioral mimicry increases affiliation, which serves to foster relationships with others. We review current research in light of this proposed framework and suggest future areas of research.

affiliation chameleon effect human evolution mimicry 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Aronson, E. (1999). The social animal. (8th ed.). New York: W. H. Freeman and Company.Google Scholar
  2. Axelrod, R., & Hamilton, W. D. (1981). The evolution of cooperation. Science, 211, 1390–1396.Google Scholar
  3. Bargh, J. A. (1990). Auto-motives: Preconscious determinants of social interaction. In E. Higgins & R. Sorrentino (Eds.), Handbook of motivation and cognition (Vol. 2, pp. 93–130). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  4. Barton, R. A., & Dunbar, R. I. M. (1997). Evolution of the social brain. In A. Whiten & R. W. Byrne (Eds.), Machiavellian intelligence II: Extensions and evaluations (pp. 240–263). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497–529.Google Scholar
  6. Bavelas, J. B., Black, A., Chovil, N., Lemery, C. R., & Mullett, J. (1988). Form and function in motor mimicry: Topographic evidence that the primary function is communication. Human Communication Research, 14, 275–299.Google Scholar
  7. Bavelas, J. B., Black, A., Lemery, C. R., MacInnis, S., & Mullet, J. (1986). Experimental methods for studying "elementary motor mimicry." Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 10, 102–119.Google Scholar
  8. Bavelas, J. B., Black, A., Lemery, C. R., & Mullett, J. (1987). Motor mimicry as primitive empathy. In N. Eisenberg & J. Strayer (Eds.), Empathy and its development (pp. 317–338). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Bernieri, F. J. (1988). Coordinated movement and rapport in teacher-student interactions. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 12, 120–138.Google Scholar
  10. Bernieri, F. J., Davis, J. M., Rosenthal, R., & Knee, C. R. (1994). Interactional synchrony and rapport: Measuring synchrony in displays devoid of sound and facial affect. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20, 303–311.Google Scholar
  11. Bernieri, F. J., & Rosenthal, R. (1991). Interpersonal coordination: Behavior matching and interactional synchrony. In R. S. Feldman & B. Rimé (Eds.), Fundamentals of nonverbal behavior (pp. 401–432). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Brewer, M. B. (1991). The social self: On being the same and different at the same time. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 17, 475–482.Google Scholar
  13. Buss, D. M., & Kenrick, D. T. (1998). Evolutionary social psychology. In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (4th ed., pp. 982–1026). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Caporael, L. R. (1997). The evolution of truly social cognition: The core configurations model. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 1, 276–298.Google Scholar
  15. Caporael, L. R. (2001a). Evolutionary psychology: Toward a unifying theory and a hybrid science. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 607–628.Google Scholar
  16. Caporael, L. R. (2001b). Parts and wholes: The evolutionary importance of groups. In C. Sedikides & M. B. Brewer (Eds.), Individual self, relational self, collective self (pp. 241–258). Philadelphia: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  17. Caporael, L. R., & Brewer, M. B. (1991). Reviving evolutionary psychology: Biology meets society. Journal of Social Issues, 47(3), 187–195.Google Scholar
  18. Cappella, J.N., & Panalp, S. (1981). Talk and silence sequences in informal conversations: III. Interspeaker influence. Human Communication Research, 7, 117–132.Google Scholar
  19. 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.Google Scholar
  20. Chartrand, T. L., Cheng, C. M., & Jefferis, V. E. (2002). You're just a chameleon: The automatic nature and social significance of mimicry. In M. Jarymowicz & R. K. Ohme (Eds.), Natura automatyzmow (Nature of Automaticity, pp. 19–23). Warszawa: IPPAN & SWPS.Google Scholar
  21. Chartrand, T. L., & Jefferis, V. (in press). Consequences of automatic goal pursuit and the case of nonconscious mimicry. To appear in J. P. Forgas, K. D. Williams, & W. von Hippel (Eds.), Responding to the social world: Implicit and explicit processes in social judgments and decisions. Philadelphia: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  22. Chartrand, T. L., Maddux, W. W., & Lakin, J. L. (in press). Beyond the perception-behavior link: The ubiquitous utility and motivational moderators of nonconscious mimicry. In R. Hassin, J. S. Uleman, & J. A. Bargh (Eds.), Unintended thought II: The new unconscious. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Cheng, C. M., & Chartrand, T. L. (in press). Self-monitoring without awareness: Using mimicry as a nonconscious affiliation strategy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.Google Scholar
  24. Condon, W. S., & Sander, L. W. (1974). Synchrony demonstrated between movements of the neonate and adult speech. Child Development, 45, 456–462.Google Scholar
  25. Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (1992). Cognitive adaptations for social exchange. In J. H. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.), The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture (pp. 163–228). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Davis, M. H. (1983). Measuring individual differences in empathy: Evidence for a multidimensional approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 113–126.Google Scholar
  27. Dawkins, R. (1982). The extended phenotype. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.Google Scholar
  28. DePaulo, B. M., & Friedman, H. S. (1998). Nonverbal communication. In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (4th ed., pp. 3–40). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  29. de Waal, F. (1989). Peacemaking among primates. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Dijksterhuis, A., & Bargh, J. A. (2001). The perception-behavior expressway: Automatic effects of social perception on social behavior. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 33, 1–40.Google Scholar
  31. Ehrlich, P. R. (2000). Human natures: Genes, cultures, and the human prospect. Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  32. Gangestad, S. W., & Snyder, M. (2000). Self-monitoring: Appraisal and reappraisal. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 530–555.Google Scholar
  33. Giles, H., & Powesland, P. F. (1975). Speech style and social evaluation. London: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  34. Hamilton, W. D. (1964). The genetic evolution of social behavior: I & II. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 7, 1–32.Google Scholar
  35. Hatfield, E., Cacioppo, J. T., & Rapson, R. L. (1994). Emotional contagion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Jefferis, V. E., van Baaren, R., & Chartrand, T. L. (2003). The functional purpose of mimicry for creating interpersonal closeness. Manuscript in preparation, The Ohio State University.Google Scholar
  37. Johanson, D., & Edgar, B. (1996). From Lucy to language. New York: Simon & Schuster Editions.Google Scholar
  38. Kendon, A. (1970). Movement coordination in social interaction: Some examples described. Acta Psychologica, 32, 1–25.Google Scholar
  39. LaFrance, M. (1979). Nonverbal synchrony and rapport: Analysis by the cross-lag panel technique. Psychology Quarterly, 42, 66–70.Google Scholar
  40. LaFrance, M. (1982). Posture mirroring and rapport. In M. Davis (Ed.), Interaction rhythms: Periodicity in communicative behavior (pp. 279–298). New York: Human Sciences Press.Google Scholar
  41. LaFrance, M., & Broadbent, M. (1976). Group rapport: Posture sharing as a nonverbal indicator. Group and Organization Studies, 1, 328–333.Google Scholar
  42. LaFrance, M., & Ickes, W. (1981). Posture mirroring and interactional involvement: Sex and sex-typing effects. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 5, 139–154.Google Scholar
  43. Lakin, J. L. (2003). Exclusion and nonconscious behavioral mimicry: Mimicking the behaviors of others to regulate identity. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Ohio State University, Columbus.Google Scholar
  44. Lakin, J. L., & Chartrand, T. L. (2003). Using Nonconscious Behavioral Mimicry to Create Affiliation and Rapport. Psychological Science, 14, 334–339.Google Scholar
  45. Leary, M. R., & Baumeister, R. F. (2000). The nature and function of self-esteem: Sociometer theory. In M. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 32 (pp. 1–62). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  46. Leary, M. R., Tambor, E. S., Terdal, S. K., & Downs, D. L. (1995). Self-esteem as an interpersonal monitor: The sociometer hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 518–530.Google Scholar
  47. Levelt, W. J. M., & Kelter, S. (1982). Surface form and memory in question answering. Cognitive Psychology, 14, 78–106.Google Scholar
  48. Lewin, R. (1993). Human evolution: An illustrated introduction (3rd ed.). Boston: Blackwell Scientific Publications.Google Scholar
  49. Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion and motivation. Psychological Review, 98, 224–253.Google Scholar
  50. Maurer, R. E., & Tindall, J. H. (1983). Effect of postural congruence on client's perception of counselor empathy. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 30, 158–163.Google Scholar
  51. Meltzoff, A. N., & Moore, M. K. (1977). Imitation of facial and manual gestures by human neonates. Science, 198, 75–78.Google Scholar
  52. Milner, A. D., & Goodale, M. A. (1995). The visual brain in action. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Neumann, R., & Strack, F. (2000). "Mood contagion": The automatic transfer of mood between persons. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 211–223.Google Scholar
  54. Poirier, F. E., & McKee, J. K. (1999). Understanding human evolution (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  55. Scheflen, A. E. (1964). The significance of posture in communication systems. Psychiatry, 27, 316–331.Google Scholar
  56. Snyder, M. (1974). Self-monitoring of expressive behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30, 526–537.Google Scholar
  57. Snyder, M. (1987). Public appearances, private realities: The psychology of self-monitoring. New York: W.H. Freeman.Google Scholar
  58. Stapel, D., & Koomen, W. (2001). I, we, and the effects of others on me: How self-construal level moderates social comparison effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 766–781.Google Scholar
  59. Termine, N. T., & Izard, C. E. (1988). Infants' response to their mothers' expressions of joy and sadness. Developmental Psychology, 24, 223–229.Google Scholar
  60. Trivers, R. L. (1971). The evolution of reciprocal altruism. Quarterly Review of Biology, 46, 35–57.Google Scholar
  61. Uldall, B., Hall, C., & Chartrand, T. L. (2003). Optimal distinctiveness theory and mimicry: When being distinct leads to an affiliation goal and greater nonconscious mimicry. Manuscript in preparation, The Ohio State University.Google Scholar
  62. van Baaren, R. B., Holland, R. W., Kawakami, K., & van Knippenberg, A. (in press). Mimicry and pro-social behavior. Psychological Science.Google Scholar
  63. van Baaren, R. B., Holland, R. W., Steenaert, B., & van Knippenberg, A. (in press). Mimicry for money: Behavioral consequences of imitation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.Google Scholar
  64. van Baaren, R. B., Maddux, W. W., Chartrand, T. L., de Bouter, C., & van Knippenberg, A. (2003). It takes two to mimic: Behavioral consequences of self-construals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 1093–1102.Google Scholar
  65. Webb, J. T. (1969). Subject speech rates as a function of interviewer behaviour. Language & Speech, 12, 54–67.Google Scholar
  66. Webb, J. T. (1972). Interview synchrony: An investigation of two speech rate measures in an automated standardized interview. In B. Pope & A. W. Siegman (Eds.), Studies in dyadic communication (pp. 115–133). New York: Pergamon.Google Scholar
  67. Williams, K. D. (2001). Ostracism: The power of silence. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  68. Williams, K. D., Shore, W. J., & Grahe, J. E. (1998). The silent treatment: Perceptions of its behaviors and associated feelings. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 1, 117–141.Google Scholar
  69. Williams, K. D., & Zadro, L. (2001). Ostracism: On being ignored, excluded, and rejected. In M. R. Leary (Ed.), Interpersonal rejection (pp. 21–53). London, Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  70. Wright, R. (1994). The moral animal: The new science of evolutionary psychology. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  71. Young, R. D., & Frye, M. (1966). Some are laughing; some are not—why? Psychological Reports, 18, 747–752.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jessica L. Lakin
    • 1
    Email author
  • Valerie E. Jefferis
    • 2
  • Clara Michelle Cheng
    • 2
  • Tanya L. Chartrand
    • 3
  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentDrew UniversityMadison
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyThe Ohio State UniversityUSA
  3. 3.Duke UniversityUSA

Personalised recommendations