Psychology of Social Connection

Imitation in Our Lives, by Nia Fernandes, Jonathan Yuan & Sierra Agarwal

February 10th, 2022 · 26 Comments

We realized after reading the research papers on imitation that studying imitation transcends paper and is present in each of our lives. Every human has been impacted by imitation whether it be consciously or unconsciously. We wanted to shed light on how imitation has played a role in our lives as college students. From sharing how our home lives have affected us in seminar classes to looking at our friend circles and teammates, there is value in understanding the effectiveness of imitation in our daily lives and upbringing.

Nia: Imitation in The Family

After reading the Cheng article on self-monitoring without awareness, I realized that most children learn through nonconscious methods of imitation (Cheng & Chartrand, 2003). This may bring to light how we learnt to talk or walk, but I want to focus not on how imitation assimilates us into society, but on how it can differentiate each of us. The people we are around, our families, our culture, our hometowns, classmates, etc. shape each of us into who we are and continue to shape our future lives.

In my own family, I only have older brothers. Because of this, I would try to mimic everything they would do. From being a toddler and trying to use the bathroom like a boy to only wanting to play sports and do other traditionally masculine activities, I was completely ignorant to my non-conscious forms of mimicry. My father raised me the same way he did with his sons, so it never came as a surprise within my family that traditionally feminine activities, like “playing princess” or dressing up barbies, never appealed to me. It was easy for me to rationalize when my parents wanted me to be like “the boys”. I was consciously aware of this mimicry. However, it was not until I was older that I realized all of the subconscious ways mimicry had impacted me. I felt out of place interacting with large groups of girls when I had to do traditionally feminine activities. They were not doing anything wrong, but it was hard for me to “act” like they did without being consciously aware or “self-monitoring” my behaviors. I would sometimes question my own motives. Am I only doing this because everyone else is doing it? Do I really want to try on each other’s clothes and have a girls’ night? Why did I feel more comfortable playing sports with “the guys”? These feelings I had growing up manifested into me being a “high self-monitor” as I got older (Cheng & Chartrand, 2003).

While I’m no longer a complete tomboy playing in the yard with my brothers, I realized that being thrown into situations that felt “socially threatening” at a young age forced me to use mimicry when I felt uncomfortable. I am now a senior in college, and consciously or not, using affiliation cues to gauge when I should imitate others in a situation still holds true for me (Cheng & Chartrand, 2003). After this week’s readings, I urge each of you to look into how imitation has impacted your life from your upbringing. While we grow up to leave our homes, the standards and lifestyle of our homes set not only the expectations we have in social situations but also how we navigate them.

Jonathan: Imitation in Friend Groups

After making my way back to Harvard this year and reimmersing myself into the social community on campus, I could not help but notice how much I’ve begun to alter my behavior to match those around me. Whether it’s suddenly saying words from a TikTok that I have never seen or noticing friends adopting my hand gestures during enthusiastic conversation, mimicry seems to be a constant occurrence now, especially as we reintegrate into society after being isolated for the past few years during the pandemic. I’ve noticed this happen among my long-lasting friendships from childhood too, slowly adopting lingo, ways of speaking, or behaviors that only become evident after they fully become my own. This process often happens outside of the realm of conscious control and is hard to explain or track, but feels satisfying nonetheless.

According to psychological studies of mimicry and its effect on belonging and connection, this pattern of imitation has important implications on social relationships based on the specific contexts it is employed in. According to a study conducted by Leander et. al., context had a major impact on how mimicry affected individuals’ perceptions of those around them. The study demonstrated that mimicry improved perception of others among participants in a more intimate and friendly setting, whereas it elicited physical and emotional coldness in a more impersonal and distant setting (Leander et al., 2012). This emphasis on context makes sense in the discussion of friendships because these relationships are often incredibly intimate and among peers of equal status, so engaging in mimicry would have a positive effect on the relationship.

Mimicry is also shown to have a beneficial outcome on the strength of social interactions. Stel and Vonk found that the closeness and smoothness of interactions were heightened among two participants when one mimicked the other’s facial expressions and non-verbal actions (Stel & Vonk, 2010). I found in my own interactions that the realization of mimicry typically comes with lots of laughter and a greater sense of joy in having an impact on others in this way. Given that this happens in the instances where we can catch the mimicry and that a majority of it goes under the radar, the presence of mimicry in friendships makes a lot of sense, since it leads to a greater sense of connection to others and leads to a more stable relationship moving forward.

Though often our values and upbringings encourage us to think of ourselves as unique individuals, perhaps this focus of independence is a bit too narrow-minded. As we develop complex and intimate relationships with those around us, adopting elements of those who we think are important is a fundamental part of who we are and who we become, as demonstrated by these studies and more. I encourage you to take a look at your interactions with your friends and see if you can find any signs of mimicry; if you do, then you might just have a keeper.

Sierra: Imitation in Sport

Throughout the majority of my childhood, I was a competitive gymnast training eight hours a day and up to thirty two hours a week. My teammates were my closest friends, while also being my closest competitors. When you are spending so much time with the same people in such a competitive yet family-like environment, you start to pick up tendencies that specific individuals have. In particular, I had one teammate who would always style her hair in the locker room into a slick back, tight ballerina bun. I knew that no matter what, she would always do so. Whether I wanted to pick up on these tendencies or not, it was inevitable, and as time went on, I began to mimic some of them. I was the youngest of my teammates by two years, which naturally, had me look up to them and admire what they could do. All that I wanted to achieve was what the “older girls” could, and I would do anything in order to accomplish so.

Recent research has shown that mimicry facilitates the bonds that people form, as well as the emotions that people feel with each other (Stel & Vonk, 2010).  In sport, the importance of team chemistry is always reiterated because of its impact. Going back to my earlier point on picking up my teammate’s tendencies of how she styled her hair, before I knew it, I began to style my hair in the exact same way that she did. I began to notice that when I did so, I naturally felt closer with her because we had something in common that we didn’t have before. This revealed to me that something as small as styling my hair the same could have such a large impact on my teammate’s and I relationship. My teammate and I began sharing more emotional stories with one another, and were generally more open with one another because we had a stronger and deeper emotional bond. This, all in all, showed me that mimicry positively impacted the bond I formed with my teammate on both a personal and emotional level, thus supporting the findings of Stel & Vonk (2010).

Another study conducted by Ashton-James et al., (2007) found that how close people are is affected by mimicking, and specifically found that it brings people closer to one another. As said before, being the youngest on my team put me in the position to naturally see my teammates as those who I want to look up to and do the same as they did. Sport is about repetition, it is about having a confident mindset and it is about knowing that your teammates have your back. To the repetition piece, I would physically imitate the certain skills or moves my teammates would do. They would do a round off, I would do a round off. They would do a full turn, I would do a full turn. By mimicking their actions, I connected with them on a deeper level to where we would bond and connect over the struggles or achievements we had over a particular skill. Going through this experience supports the findings that Ashton-James et al., (2007) found in the sense that we both understood the complexities that went into our performance, and by imitating what the older girls were doing, we were able to form a connection that was closer. 

While gymnastics had a large impact on my life and how I view older individuals, I strongly think that everyone should have either a formal or informal mentor on whatever team they are a part of. Whether that is in the workplace, in school, in sport, or whatever else it is where you are working with others, find that person who you can look up to, who will push you to want to do what they do, and ultimately, mimic.

 

References

Ashton-James, C., van Baaren, R. B., Chartrand, T. L., Decety, J., & Karremans, J. (2007). Mimicry and me: The impact of mimicry on self-construal. Social Cognition, 25, 518–535.

Cheng, C. M., & Chartrand, T. L. (2003). Self-monitoring without awareness: using mimicry as a nonconscious affiliation strategy. Journal of personality and social psychology, 85(6), 1170.

Leander, N. P., Chartrand, T. L., & Bargh, J. A. (2012). You Give Me the Chills: Embodied Reactions to Inappropriate Amounts of Behavioral Mimicry. Psychological Science, 23(7), 772–779. 

Stel, M., & Vonk, R. (2010). Mimicry in social interaction: Benefits for mimickers, mimickees, and their interaction. British journal of psychology, 101(2), 311-323.

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26 responses so far ↓

  • Summer Cai // Feb 11th 2022 at 5:38 pm

    Hi Nia, Jonathan, and Sierra,

    Thank you so much for your post! This week’s reading, discussion and especially your post helped me realize how prevalent imitation is in my life. I can relate a lot to the points you made.

    Nia, I also grew up a bit like a tomboy. I had many more guy friends than girl friends: we would often find ourselves watching the same shows, dressing in a similar way, and I even cut my hair short (so it would be easier to take care of and because everyone was doing it haha). When I entered middle school, I was in a class with 36 boys and 9 girls. Going in, I fully expected that I would continue with my tomboy lifestyle, but I noticed myself imitating other girls much more often: we would sit together at lunch, gossip about the same celebrities, and one time a girl started writing fanfics and many of us (including me lol) joined in that trend. I wonder why this shift happened and have two possible hypotheses: 1) our teacher started emphasizing gender much more (she would often make general statements about “girls” and “boys”), so she as an “authoritative figure” might have guided me to identify with and imitate the “group I’m supposed to belong to” more. 2) a lot of physical and psychological changes happened around puberty, so I might saw myself more similar physically and developmentally to the girls whom I imitated.

    Jonathan, I totally agree with your point that similar lingo and other non-verbal imitations like laughter strengthening of social bonds and smoother communication in friendly context. I also found that imitation help create a synchrony or common knowledge base among friends that help us communicate more efficiently. I often find myself saying a particular word to my friends (i.e. an inside joke) and they will all start laughing without having to listen to the funny story again. This helps foster a good vibe without wasting a lot of time repeating the same stories that would quickly get very repetitive and boring.

    Sierra, though I’ve never been an athlete, I really resonated with your point about the connection between mentorship and imitation. I find myself imitating the people I admire much more than a random classmate. I really admire my high school Spanish teacher as a person and see him as a mentor. Not only did I consciously imitate him during classes, but also unconsciously imitated a lot of his lingo and mannerism outside of class. I think these imitations made our interactions go much smoother and every time I realized I’ve imitated him unconsciously, I would feel happy and like him more as well.

  • Lane // Feb 11th 2022 at 7:13 pm

    Thanks for sharing Nia, Sierra, and Jonathan. A couple of you shared your experience of imitation at a young age and how that impacted your behavior — Sierra as a gymnast and Nia with older brothers — and so it made me curious to what extent mimicry may decline with age. My hypothesis is that there would be a steady decline in imitation over time. The papers we read last week mentioned that when we are “satiated” (i.e. when we feel a strong sense of belonging and connection with others) we are less likely to seek new connections. I imagine this satiation would then make us more comfortable and less likely to imitate others in new social contexts that someone who is not satiated. Tying this back to age, I imagine older folks to have more robust relationships and are less interested in fostering new relationships than young people. As a result I would expect them to imitate others less. Curious to hear what others may think about this.

  • Stephanie // Feb 11th 2022 at 8:12 pm

    Great blog post Nia, Jonathan and Sierra! As I was reading each of your personal stories I felt like I resonated with each of your experiences.

    More specifically, as I was reading Nia’s blog post about growing up with siblings and the effects that had on your personality and character, I began to think about my sister and me. I have one younger sister and I definitely feel like growing up I was mimicked a lot. Either by the way that I dressed, the way that I spoke, the activities I did or even literally word for word, she sometimes seemed like a shadow. After I left for college though, she began to tell me how she felt like she was really growing into her own character and becoming more different than me. I think that has a huge impact on mimicry and how that can change because of what you are exposed to.

    Additionally, in terms of Sierra’s part of the blog post I really related to what you wrote about having older teammates and mimicking them. I think that in every team that I have played on I have looked up to an older girl and tried to mimic and then emulate something that I admired about them. In my experience it was and is easy to mimic somebody that you respect and that you want to be like in a sense. As you said and referred to, I definitely think in a team sense it brings people together because they think more alike in terms of work ethic and goals and that can be very helpful in a team sense.

  • Do Kim // Feb 13th 2022 at 4:33 pm

    Nia, Jonathan, and Sierra, thank you for sharing your experiences within the context of mimicry!

    Nia, this was a unique take on mimicry, with your experience making you feel like mimicry actually differentiated you as you got older. The questions you brought up, about why you may have wanted to have “girls’ night” as well as why you felt more comfortable “playing sports with the guys,” brings up an interesting tension. This tension I refer to is regarding when an experience of imitation involves societal expectations/gendered expectations (girls’ night) in conjunction with growing up in the context that you did (with brothers, doing “traditionally masculine activities”), that did not align with these societal and gendered expectations. The initial mimicking you describe led you to “deviate” from norms, but mimicry also led you to try and “align” with those norms again. What do you think has had/is having a greater influence on your instinct to mimic, the mimicry in the context of your family/brothers, or the mimicry that is more motivated by “traditional gender and social norms?”

    Jonathan, your focus on how mimicry leads to becoming increasingly similar to those close to us is an interesting contrast from Nia’s piece. I will definitely pay more attention for signs of mimicry in my interactions! You mention that you remember mimicking throughout your childhood friendships and as you re-immerse yourself into in-person school. I relate to this and have been thinking about how/if the way or intensity of mimicking has changed now that many students are trying to reestablish old connections. Has the “effect on belonging and connection” that mimicking brings, or at least the degree of its “effect on belonging and connection,” changed from your relationships pre and post covid-19-related quarantine?

    Sierra, it was great to read about your experience of how mimicry, whether it was from mimicking a teammate’s hairstyle or the moves they did, really did bring you closer together, as brought up in the readings. You bring up the dynamic of age/how people just a few years older than someone, especially when in the school system, can operate as particularly strong role models, and a source that one closely mimics. In addition to this, your perspective on how you mimicked older teammates because of a desire to accomplish what they could was something I definitely remember doing growing up! While you wrote about how this desire to mimic helped you foster closer bonds with your team and pushed you in gymnastics, this made me wonder about the effect of having someone one looks up to who is not necessarily the “best” role model. Do you think that mimicking behaviors, even if they could be ones that are generally deemed as “not beneficial” or even “harmful” to oneself would have the same ability to “bring people together” and fulfill the need to make connections?

  • Andrea Liu // Feb 13th 2022 at 5:27 pm

    Thank you, Nia, Jonathan, and Sierra for this insightful blog post! It’s fascinating how you were all able to find separate facets of your life to analyze this mimicry, from family to friends to teammates.

    Nia, your comment about your siblings makes me laugh because I have a brother who’s older by three years and a sister who’s younger by two. Apparently when we were younger, my sister would imitate everything I do or seek affirmation from me whenever we were together. My mom even dressed us the same, so it really felt like I had a younger shadow. Sadly, her imitation soon stopped and fast forward a couple years, I remember my middle-school self idolizing and imitating my brother because he was in high school and seemingly so grown up (a laughable thought now). While this was much more conscious of imitation acts than mimicry, it did deepen our connection as siblings and as friends. It’s interesting how our perceptions of who we want to model ourselves after, when it’s either conscious or unconscious, can change as our goals or values change too.

    Jonathan, thanks for pointing out how important context is when looking at mimicking others’ behavior. With my friends at school, for example, it feels natural, or at least unsurprising, when one of us picks up a word or phrase another is saying, even despite our best efforts. This is something that’s happened more and more often, however—the pattern didn’t really start until we became better friends and closer to one another, so we spent more time together. The context of our friendship is changing (from casual acquaintances to close friends), so it makes sense that our imitation patterns do as well, especially if they happen unconsciously or sometimes with slang, against our will.

    Sierra, first of all, that’s insane: 8 hours a day?? That is so impressive. Going back to the actual content of imitation, however, it’s relevant that you point out how you purposefully imitated role models on your team. While I never really played sports seriously, even my brief times playing on teams I was able to find someone I wanted to be like, either in their athletic skill, their work ethic, or their general demeanor and would model myself after. Older people can often serve as a strong contender for being the inspiration for imitation, and it does help to solidify team camaraderie to have that admiration and imitation, particularly purposeful, of a team leader. How has it shaped your perception as you transition to being an upperclassman in a team or club?

  • Kara Xie // Feb 13th 2022 at 7:37 pm

    What a wonderful blog post! It had me reassessing non-conscious ways I see mimicry in my life, whether it was my upbringing, conversations with friends. Particularly in Nia’s commentary on growing up with siblings and the mimicry that exists with that dynamic, it led me to reflect on growing up with a twin. Being a twin is almost like the ultimate form of mimicry – we look the same, grew up the same, act the same way. Some forms of mimicry I did notice – dressing up with the same clothes and playing the same games at recess. But some other forms were a bit less obvious, such as personality quirks and vocabulary that we share. We would often develop code names for things and would subconsciously say them when the other person would say them too. We would joke that it was telepathic but really, I think it was just an extreme form of mimicry. I relate to the line about how Nia used mimicry in situations that felt “socially threatening” at a young age because it felt like mimicking behavior was the only way to “fit in” without having the extra burden of wondering if I’m saying something wrong or doing something wrong.

    For Jonathan’s commentary, I felt really pleasantly surprised with how the literature stacks up to my friendships in real life. I liked the ending “take a look at your interactions with your friends and see if you can find any signs of mimicry; if you do, then you might just have a keeper.” Upon reflecting on my friendships, there are conscious and unconscious forms of mimicry which affirm that the friendships are positive/beneficial.

    For Sierra’s commentary, I loved the line of “find that person who you can look up to, who will push you to want to do what they do, and ultimately, mimic.” When I was younger, I said my dream job would be to be a talk show host. I would put Jimmy Kimmel on my TV and re-enact his one-liners and imitate him, almost as a joke. But that mimicry really translated to confidence in public speaking and comedy in real life, which is something that I’m very pleasantly surprised by.

    Overall, VERY relatable blog post and great incorporation with the literature. Cheers to more mimicking in the future in PSY1535!!

  • Patrick S // Feb 13th 2022 at 7:52 pm

    Really insightful blog post! I enjoyed the combination of personal experience and research that you brought into this conversation. After reading your writing and the readings for last week, I was interested in what qualities in other people induce us to imitate them. For instance, Nia, Jonathan, and Sierra all gave examples of different peers who were imitated (siblings, teammates, and friends). While the context under which all of these imitations was different, there was some level of initial attraction felt towards these peers that compelled imitation, with some reasons suggested by the author being familial connection, admiration, and competitive drive. It seems to make sense that there needs to be an initial connection between the imitator and the imitated, as literature suggests that solely imitating a person does not automatically increase affinity for that person. There was a paper in the optional readings for last week that touched on the fact that intentionally mimicking a previously disliked person does not increase liking for that person, while mimicking a previously liked person does increase liking for that person. I am curious to learn more about the factors that produce imitation in others, and how they differ from factors that bring about friendship or close relationships.

  • Iris // Feb 13th 2022 at 10:22 pm

    Thank you guys so much for sharing this post! It was a very fun read. I was especially interested in the contrast between how Nia and Jonathan analyzed the link between mimicry and uniqueness; Nia mentioned that imitation within a small circle of people can differentiate those people, as happens in a family, while Jonathan suggested that overemphasizing difference can be “narrow-minded.” Of course both of these readings are valuable, rooted in the authors’ lived experiences, and not mutually exclusive! But I think the push-and-pull between mimicry’s capacity to connect and its potential to exclude is really interesting. In the readings, we saw that tension most clearly in the section of the Leander et al. 2012 on mimicry between people of different races. That study makes it clear (as is intuitive, I think) that mimicry isn’t a universal, simple good.

    On a related note, I’m interested in the distinction between interpersonal direct imitation, like appears in the studies, and a more general attempt to fit in with a group or culture. Are all attempts at assimilation mimicry, exactly? Or is understanding and replicating group norms a different function? The second category seems more intentional, at least. Nia’s discussion of self-monitoring and Sierra’s narrative about mentorship on a sports team seemed like they might have revealed information about other social phenomena, as well as simple mimicry. But maybe not—maybe mimicry is a bigger category than I give it credit for. Either way, thank you guys again for writing such a thoughtful, interesting blog post!

  • Helena Jiang // Feb 14th 2022 at 5:44 am

    Nia, Jonathan, and Sierra, this was such an amazing blog post! Thank you so much for sharing parts of your own lives, as well as integrating the applicability of imitation to life as a whole.

    Nia, while I didn’t experience your exact situation first-hand, I actually saw something quite similar happen to my brother – he grew up around me, his sister, playing with dolls and dressing up barbies, and I saw that mimicry as well given that his hand-me-downs were all cute stuffed animals and pink and glittery, and I think that has impacted him in the sense that he’s able to understand and empathize with girls and their situations more so than others now.

    Jonathan, you make a really great point that engaging in mimicry has positive effects on the relationship, whether it be laughing more or mimicking facial expressions, and that this thought should have us as humanity rethink what the role of independence is, especially in those complex and intimate relationships you mentioned.

    Sierra, that is so incredible that you devoted so much time in your day to gymnastics – that’s almost like a whole work week! I also never thought of mimicry having such an important role in team dynamics, as well as how much age impacts the way you mimic and view older individuals.

  • Sofie Fella // Feb 14th 2022 at 2:34 pm

    Nia, Jonathan, and Sierra – This was such a great blog post, thanks for taking the time to apply the topic of imitation to your lives and sharing!

    Nia – You made me think of how our family’s can affect our tendencies through mimicry. We talked a little bit about this in class but tone and language is a super important one for me that is passed on by being around my family so much. Even though I did not have brothers, I felt like I grew up as a tomboy playing sports and that was definitely as a result of my sister also being more of a tomboy. It’s interesting to think about how age and whether someone is older than you affects how much you imitate them vs. if you would imitate younger siblings as much?

    Jonathan, you made me think of my COVID year and the friends that I’ve made while I’ve been away from campus. I spent most of my time in Hong Kong where I met many people from New Zealand, Australia and the UK. It made me think of how now I say things that I wouldn’t have said before such as “I’d be keen” or “I reckon” because I’ve started copying what people around me say most. It also made me think of people and developing accents and how that is a form of mimicry to fit into your environment as well.

    Sierra – Being an athlete as well and especially playing a sport like rugby where there is a whole lot of team chemistry needed because you’re putting your body on the line out there for your teammates, I really enjoyed your take on mimicry in a sport setting. I’d be interested to see if different sports have different levels of mimicry that people use on teammates depending on contact level/whether it’s a team sport vs. more individual sport etc.

  • Jaron Zhou // Feb 14th 2022 at 4:17 pm

    Nia, Jonathan and Sierra, thanks for a fantastic blog post! It was extremely interesting and insightful to see how imitation may have consciously or unconsciously affected each of your lives.

    Nia, I can definitely see how families affect ourselves through unconscious mimicry. For example, at events where I meet students and their parents, I can usually pick out some similarities (expressions, gestures, even tones when they say certain words) between them that I believe to be an unconscious imitation. I’m also fascinated by the idea of sibling imitation, and I wonder if there was been some study that analyzes the effect of having older siblings of a different gender and how that affects a younger sibling’s development and behavior.

    Johnathan, I think imitation within friend groups is an especially powerful form of social bonding, because I know that certain friend groups have a distinct way of talking with each other in terms of the slang and tone used, and it serves as a way to reinforce the ingroup-outgroup dynamic. I’ve also found that imitating friends is something that many people do a bit more consciously, and I wonder if that is because we want to be more like our friends (perhaps that’s part of the reason for making friends with someone in the first place) or if perhaps they are a way to solidify sometimes ephemeral and rapidly shifting bonds (unlike the genetic bond of families, for example).

    Sierra, as someone who has also played team sports such as water polo myself, I wonder if we can draw a distinction between athletic and non-athletic imitation within teams. Athletic imitation is something that I did a lot consciously, because it involved learning from better, older teammates about how to run plays, how to shoot a ball in different ways, how to defend effectively, etc. That is certainly a good thing, as there are only so many technical skills that a coach can teach to a team. On the other hand, non-athletic imitation might come in the form of copying speaking patterns, habits, etc., more akin to imitation within friend groups. I wonder if there is some difference between imitation in self-organized friend groups, vs. established teams where you have much fewer choice in who you get to interact with on a daily basis.

  • Antony // Feb 14th 2022 at 7:11 pm

    Great blog post! You all did a great job with connecting readings and articles with your personal experiences to outline the points. Through the imitation section of readings and activities I have become more curious about the extent which a person will imitate another. In the blog post I really did enjoy the personal stories added by each all three Nia, Jonathan, and Sierra. It seems as if despite the context of imitation whether it be for a team setting, friendship or family, there always seems to be a desire to belong associated with it. As for the case with Nia she wanted to fit in with her brothers which led her to subconsciously imitate them, and this is of course a form of longing to belong a desired group. As for Sierra she began to imitate her teammates because she subconsciously wanted to grow closer to them which is only natural. It seems as if the initial pull factor was the fact that she looked up to the older girls on her team probably similar to how we view older siblings. This spurred her on to subconsciously imitate them similarly to Nia and her brothers. Finally, Jonathan reported on imitation within friend groups which is a very relatable topic. Again, it stems from a sense of wanting to belong within a social group aka your own friend group. Using the same vernacular language as another person is a key sign whether or not a type of imitation is going on and I really loved that point.

  • Tom Aicardi // Feb 14th 2022 at 7:37 pm

    Thank you, Nia, Jonathan, and Sierra, for your thoughtful blogs posts. I resonated with each of your posts in multiple ways. Nia’s post about imitation in the family made me think of how my family and those close to me when growing up, have shaped me into the person I am today. I have always been very interested in athletics since a young age which is likely caused by my dad’s love for sports and also through growing up with my two neighbors. While they are not family members, my two neighbors (one is two years older than me and one is one year younger) greatly influenced my passion for sports and my competitiveness. This is especially the case with my older neighbor named Matt. As a young kid, I was always trying to “catch up” and compete with Matt and as I reflect now, I believe that constantly playing sports with my neighbors as a kid made me love athletics. Through being an athlete, I definitely relate to Sierra’s blog about imitation in sport as I have noticed my teammates and I will act similar especially when competing such as similar body language and demeanor. I thought the article from Ashton-James et al. was very interesting as it discusses how mimicry is directly correlated to how close people and friends are. I have definitely noticed this between my high school friend group and now it is noticeable between me and my roommates and college friend group. Especially when first forming friends, I feel that mimicry is important for how much two people will get along. Similar to Jonathan, when I first came to Harvard, I noticed that it was tricky to have a new lingo and ways of speaking with new friends compared to me and my high school friends.

  • Maya Dubin // Feb 14th 2022 at 8:24 pm

    Thank you for this post – Nia, Jonathan, and Sierra.

    Nia – I loved your personal lens with the question of how does imitation fit in a family structure. I found myself reflecting on my own family and I definitely see some similar trends. For example, I really idolized my brother growing up and used to always request to wear and eat the same things as him. I wonder if me not participating in traditional feminine activities also made me become a “high self-monitor” person as I got older (Cheng & Chartrand, 2003). I also loved the point you made about how imitation assimilates us into society. This made me think of my mother, who immigrated to the US from Sweden. Last week in class I mentioned to my group how when other people speak she sometimes mouths the words they say. I think this may have to do with her trying to process the language and assimilate, since English is not her native language. Overall, I loved your analysis and how you were able to connect the idea of family with the psychological topic of imitation – well done.

    Jonathan – I especially loved your analysis of imitation in friend groups and how this is heightened after a pandemic. I also started to reflect on if my relationships have changed at all ever a long period of isolation and how mimicry may play into this. I think it is so true that when we try and “reintegrate” into society after being isolated we may mimic more. The explicit connection between mimicry and social belonging/connection comes into play here as after a global pandemic we tend to seek out ways to feel more connected and in turn one of the ways we do this is by imitating those around us to feel that sense of belonging.

    Sierra – I also have played sports my whole life and definitely think imitation comes into play here the most for me. I think on a team there is always a sense of hierarchy – the oldest players and captains are the leaders and hence the younger people will look up to them and imitate their work ethic and team building skills. A question I had about the role of imitation in sports is do we think there could be some connection with working towards a common goal and imitation? What I mean by this is generally a team is working towards some goal, in sports this may be a winning season for example, do we think that we imitate the people around us more when we are working towards a goal together? I am curious if there is any sort of connection here.

    Thank you all again for you thoughtful post!

  • Mitchell Saron // Feb 15th 2022 at 12:21 am

    I resonated with many parts of this blog post.

    More specifically, I related extremely to Nia’s personal experience with imitating family members. Ever since I was little, I could always remember my dad chewing on ice after he finished his drink. I remember trying this out when I was in pre-school as I wanted to be like my father. Consequently, I developed the same habit and now love chewing on ice like my dad. My sense of humor is also very similar to my father’s as I am sure I wanted to laugh at the jokes he found funny and emulate his use of humor.

    I also related very much to Jonathan’s explanation of imitation and friendships. In my hometown and here at school, I always end up adopting a new vernacular or manner of speech due to the friends I surround myself with. In both environments, I give my friends new slang or intonations that we all will use. This imitation continues to foster new mannerisms and words that we adopt from one another.

  • Georgia Steigerwald // Feb 15th 2022 at 12:28 am

    Nia, Jonathan, and Sierra this was awesome! I really like how you made this week’s topic of imitation personal to yourselves and to life at Harvard!

    Jonathan- I really liked your point about using the gestures, language, and sometimes even intonation of our friends. But, I wonder whether we can be sure that this is mimicry/imitation. Maybe we see our friends so often that we unconsciously (or maybe even consciously) mimic them in order to reaffirm our belonging. Burt maybe we borrow their language simply because it ameliorates our own. After learning a new word, we tend to incorporate it into our vocabulary more frequently. Could this be more about language acquisition or a familiarity effect of sorts than mimicry? Or do we think it is definitely mimicry?

    Not sure whether I have an answer for this (though it would make sense for imitation to be involved in this process in some capacity).

    Thank you again for the post!

  • Lake De La Fuente // Feb 15th 2022 at 1:38 am

    Thank you Nia, Jonathan, and Sierra for the great blog post. When reading y’alls experiences, I immediately think and relate to all the imitations I have done in my past.

    Nia – Your experience is so similar to mine. I had two older sisters but was the youngest just like you. I often as a kid would love to hangout with my sisters and her friends. Whether it was dressing up, dressing up barbies, makeup, making jewelry, or anything they did, I’d do too. And likewise, I too was consciously aware of this mimicry. However, it never really carried over into my life. It was like a switch- when I was with my sisters I would mimic things they did but when I wasn’t, I was as usual. I did pick up bad habits from them in my teens such as nail biting/popping my fingers. Today I still pop my fingers which carried over to start popping my back as well.

    Sierra – I can’t express the amount of similarities I had to your experiences being both athletes and starting at such a young age. I did things such as wearing super high nike elite socks and only nike elites, wearing an arm sleeve/sweatbands in basketball, wearing ¾ white cut-off leggings under my shorts for games in lacrosse, wearing eye black under helmets in football/lacrosse games. Likewise I also felt closer to my teammates through doing what others did. I felt especially closer to my older teammates when I was a freshman in high school. This is extremely similar with your repetition piece, being a freshman on a varsity team quickly led to me imitating certain skills or moves/shots they would do. I completely felt a connection with my teammates by mimicking their actions which likewise led to better connections on and off the field.

  • Gayoung Choi // Feb 15th 2022 at 1:38 am

    Thanks for this awesome blog post. Nia and Sierra, your guys’ discussion of mimicry from looking up to older people around you is very relatable. I have an older sister and grew up copying a lot of things she did—even bad habits like biting my nails. Not to be so negative, but it makes me wonder about the potential bad parts of mimicry such as growing up with a parent that curses a lot or engages in poor habits. Humans seem so vulnerable when I think about mimicry in that sense.

    Jonathan, I can completely relate to your post. I can feel myself—for the lack of a better term—code switching around friends depending on who I’m with. For instance, I’ve noticed I talk crazily around my roommates and a little slangy around my music group friends. I’d like to believe it allows myself to feel closer to them.

  • Spencer Carter // Feb 15th 2022 at 1:39 am

    Thanks to the three of you for making the concepts of imitation and mimicry really come alive.

    Nia, I found your piece about mimicking your older brothers really interesting. It made me think about how mimicry is such an essential part of the way that young children learn. We mimic our close relatives when we’re learning how to speak, how to walk, how to tie our shoes, how to ride a bike, how to eat our cereal, and so much more. Mimicry and imitation are fundamental to our socialization, and so it only makes sense that since you grew up surrounded by brothers, you enjoyed doing many of the same things they did. I think your story highlights the importance of the example we set for our children and younger siblings, as our behavior really does influence what they will consider to be acceptable and what they will want to do.

    Jonathan, your last paragraph really resonated with me. I agree that people in our society (myself definitely included) should place less emphasis on the individual and the ways that we’re independent and focus instead on having more harmonious, reciprocal relationships. I think that having healthy relationships with good people is both an intrinsically rewarding experience (as Baumeister et al. proposed) and can teach us a great deal about ourselves and how we want to live life.

    Sierra, I found your story about imitating the older girls on your gymnastics team to be a very poignant one. It made me wonder, however, how those girls were imitating you back in ways that you may not have even realized. Even though you were a bit younger, I’d imagine that most of your teammates still viewed you as a peer and either consciously or unconsciously mimicked the things you did which they admired. For me, thinking about mimicry as a two-way street, even when there are imbalances in age or experience, emphasizes the fact that the role models we seek out don’t necessarily have to be older or more experienced. Rather, each of us can find qualities we want to acquire or hone in everyone around us.

  • Patrick Walsh // Feb 15th 2022 at 2:06 am

    Thank you Nia, Jonathan and Sierra for your thoughtful posts. I definitely resonated with each of your personal experiences regarding imitation. More notably within my family as Nia mentioned and within sport as Sierra touched on. Being an athlete with a brother who is just a year younger, I found myself imitating a lot of what he was doing and vice versa. My parents were also athletes so I wonder if us trying to almost “follow in their footsteps” had much to do with our growing passion for athletics. We found ourselves playing much of the same sports that our parents did when they were younger, constantly competing to be better than one another.

    My brother always wanted to do the exact same things as me growing up, which I found quite annoying at the time. Whatever team I played for, he also wanted to be a part of it. If I tried a new sport, he was not far behind in trying it out as well. If I went to the field to practice, he was right by my side practicing as well. Since I was older than him, I was typically better than my brother when we were younger and I found him to imitate almost everything I did on and off the field in order to try and catch up in ability. As for myself, I found myself imitating older teammates on my teams growing up as well. I always looked up to the starters on the squads as well as the captains and tried to mimic their work ethic and leadership abilities. Imitating these older athletes definitely turned me into the person I am today. However I still wonder whether my brother and I would have found a passion for something else had we not wanted to almost “imitate” our parents and their athletic careers.

  • Olivia Zhang // Feb 15th 2022 at 3:14 am

    Thank you Nia, Jonathan, Sierra for sharing your sincere, thoughtful, and thought-provoking takeaways from studying mimicry and imitation, both in the science and in your own lives.

    To echo other classmates on this (which may itself be mimicry!), I enjoyed learning how each of you considered the topics in your own lives and found great impact in three different realms – family, friend groups, sports teams. And also as others have found, I related to each of your experiences in some way, particularly in my experience with my older sister, re: Nia and older siblings!

    The fact that something like mimicry, whether conscious or unconscious, which entails doing the same as others, could appear in and affect individual lives in different ways imparts a sliver of something larger, perhaps like a universal fragment of human biology and society that manifests in non-universal ways depending on the specific experience of the individual.

    After focusing on your discussions and our classes on the positive relationship between forms of mimicry and social connection, I begin to wonder, in a similar vein to Lane’s questions on age, what are other factors – inevitably still connected by the band of human experience – that may correlate with mimicry? If we are all the same in that mimicry corresponds with positive social experiences, I wonder if there is scientific experimentation to study what variables may explain the nuances. Is there something to quantify or account for variations in degree of mimicry that are not overtly related to the motivation to bond? Maybe age, in an inverse relationship, as Lane suggests? Or maybe the question is, what are the implications on other factors by this positive relationship that has been studied so well?

    Are more obvious or “loud” kinds of actions “easier” to mimic or more prone to mimicry? E.g. spoken diction, footshaking, laughing, vs. sitting very still or speaking in few words, if those are the natural and comfortable social behaviors of the person you’re interaction with? Do situational factors make it harder to mimic consciously? Is that even important to study?

    Lots to think about! Strongly inspired by this fascinating blog post and other classmates’ responses.

  • Michael Pankowski // Feb 15th 2022 at 4:04 am

    Thanks a lot for your blog post, Nia, Jonathan and Sierra! I found that I related to each of your posts in different ways.

    Nia, your post definitely resonated with me in that I have an older brother, too, and like you, I was always trying to mimic him. How he played sports, his mannerisms, how he talked, etc. Because he’s two years older than me I looked up to him, and frankly I never questioned doing so until I read your post. So thanks for making me rethink my childhood influences, lol! Then in school I know my friends and I mimicked each other, so my brother was not my only major influence. But because I was around him many more hours of the day than my school friends, I ended up mimicking him more than anyone else and picking up many of his cues. Fascinating stuff — thanks for your post!

    Jonathan, I found the research you brought up about how mimicry is enjoyed when in a friendly setting but makes people feel cold when in a distant setting. I’ve definitely seen that in my own life — when I’m hanging out with my friends I don’t mind if they borrow my lingo and movement patterns. In fact, I find it fun and amusing. But when strangers do it it kind of weirds me out and feels forced. So this research definitely resonates with me! I wonder if this would be a gradient effect, such as people gradually getting more and more comfortable with mimicry as the environment gradually becomes more friendly, or if it’s a more either-or sensation in that they feel either comfortable with mimicry if they perceive their environment as friendly or cold if they perceive it as distant.

    Sierra, I feel the same way as you in regards to mimicry in sports. I played baseball my whole life, which is unique to team sports in general in that it’s a team sport but each individual is fighting their personal battles. For example, in basketball if you don’t want to shoot then you can just pass the ball to someone who wants to. But in baseball if you don’t feel comfortable hitting that at-bat, well too bad, you have to hit. So in baseball because your teammates are also individual performers, there is lots of mimicry of whoever is doing well. I noticed that when I was on a particularly hot streak, many of my teammates would mimic me by using my bat and copying my batting stance. But when someone else was doing well, I would find myself mimicking them. In sports everyone is always trying to do better and so it makes sense to mimic those who are doing well, which connects to what you wrote about with gymnastics. And like you, I found I bonded with the people who I mimicked and who mimicked me as we felt pulled together by the desire to do better and to find out what’s working. Thanks for your thought-provoking contribution!

  • Kayla Edwards // Feb 15th 2022 at 4:54 am

    I really resonated with what Sierra wrote about imitation in sport. Growing up, I would always look up to the older girls in my ballet classes and ballet company. They seemed so amazing to me, and I wanted to be just like them so that they would see me as one of them (or at least, similar to them). Not only did I mimic their looks (the way they did their hair or the leotard styles they wore), but also their behaviors. Before class, some days they were stretching and warming up, and other days they were just casually chatting or on their phones. I always followed what they did. If they took class on pointe, I did as well, no matter how blistered my feet were or how painful it was. I wanted to match them exactly. Ultimately, I think this definitely pushed me to become a better dancer, as I never wanted to seem lazy or slack off in front of them and it really challenged me to constantly push myself.

    In later years, these girls turned out to be some of my best friends. I wonder now, is it because I made myself so similar to them? People naturally gravitate towards those that are like them, so this could definitely be the case. However, I do not think it is necessarily a bad thing: although I was imitating them, I never ‘lost myself’ or did anything I didn’t want to do.

  • Jessica Lee // Feb 15th 2022 at 6:39 am

    Thank you all for a wonderful blog post! I definitely resonated with parts of all three of your experiences and learned new things about imitation and mimicry along the way. It was overall both informative and relatable — well done!

    Nia, I loved how you covered imitation in the family. Intuitively, it makes sense that our behavior would be heavily influenced and impacted by those closest to us — parents and siblings — especially in childhood. I have an older brother, too, but was raised with more traditionally feminine activities, so It was really interesting reading about your experiences growing up. In particular, how you described your increasing awareness of your childhood mimicry and how it has affected you intrigued me and I am curious to learn more about “self-monitoring.”

    Jonathan, I related deeply with your imitation of friends! For me especially, I am quick to pick up lingo, ways of speaking, and distinct behaviors of those I’m closest to. My childhood best friend and I have spent so many years of our lives together that our speech patterns, intonations, and habits are often mistaken for one another! I wonder how long it takes for different relationships to develop strong mimicry and what causes variation in how much one tends to mimic another?

    Sierra, it was so interesting reading about your experience with imitation in sport. I was a competitive dancer growing up, and there can be a strong focus on uniformity in certain styles and especially on dance teams. It’s interesting for me to reflect upon how much imitation was encouraged, and how much was perhaps unconscious. I’m sure both forms strengthened team bonds and created a sense of camaraderie!

  • Esther Xiang // Feb 16th 2022 at 9:45 am

    Nia, Jonathan, and Sierra – Thank y’all so much for this beautifully written and insightful blog post! Y’all did such a fantastic job kicking off the blog posts series!

    I really resonated with so much of what y’all wrote.

    Nia – It’s so interesting to see how much the people we are around end up shaping us into who we are today. I wonder how much children are influenced by the preferences and opinions of those around them. For example, toddlers will imitate the actions of their parents during daily life. Many kids love to join in when you do chores around the house and ask to help or simply start pretending to do the same or offer to help. More research should investigate the boundary conditions of the positive consequences of imitation and whether imitation ever has negative consequences.

    Jonathan – Since coming back on campus, I’ve also noticed myself altering my behavior or energy to match the people around me. I’ve adopted certain sayings through my interactions with friends that I will use in my everyday conversations. It’s interesting to see how mimicry benefits social interactions by increasing the closeness and smoothness of these relationships. I do wonder if there are differences in our mimicry depending on the type of relationship, whether it’s our family, friends, or significant others.

    Sierra – I love your call to action to find a person that you look up to and mimic them. I think it’s important to surround yourself with people who inspire me and bring you joy. After all, you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. During my first year of college, there was a senior who I really looked up to. I noticed myself unintentionally mimicking her as I admired who she was as an individual and wanted to be like her. It’s so interesting how after being mimicked, we behave more helpfully and generously toward others.

  • Orion Vigil // Feb 17th 2022 at 2:12 pm

    Hello Nia, Jonathan, and Sierra, this is a wonderful piece and really adds to the conversation we had on mimicry so nicely!

    Sierra, I especially resonated with your story about gymnastics and the need for having people in your life you look up to and can model some of your behavior on. I think that sometimes, in this hyper-individualist culture, we emphasize independence in a way that devalues having elders and mentors in whom we can see ourselves and feel good about mimicking. I especially resonated with your line: “I began to notice that when I did so, I naturally felt closer with her because we had something in common that we didn’t have before.” I have often noticed that, when it is someone whose values we share or who succeeds at something we want to be good at, it does feel good to embody something they’ve modeled. During the first year of the pandemic, when I took a gap year, I found myself yearning for a mentor-like figure; not just someone who could give me career advise, but someone who shared my values and was actively living them. I’m sure younger gymnasts also ended up looking up to you!

    Speaking of looking up to people, Nia, I definitely think that sibling relationships are unique in just how much we mimic each other within sibling or cousin dynamics. I find that one “archetype” of people I tend to get close to are people who mirror some of the traits that my younger brother has, such as being really into coffee and doing things very precisely. I find that sometimes I mimic these people, and so in a way am mimicking my younger brother, even though I was told most of my life he took after me.

    Finally, Jonathan, I definitely resonate with your message about mimicry in friendship. I think that it can work both ways, too; I find myself flattered when new friends I hope to become close with start incorporating phrases I say into their vocabulary, and also, I know that I want to be close to someone when I find that mimicking them is effortless and adds to my life in a fun way.

    It can be true that all of these are examples of the benefits of mimicry, helping us fill that need for social connection, while there also existing a dark side to out tendency to mimic. I think that some of this can be combatted by checking-in with ourselves about whether or not the people we surround ourselves with share our values and intentions. I also think this has interesting implications for social media and the recently-coined parasocial relationship, where I at least certainly find that there are content creators I want to mimic, but also want to be mindful about what it is exactly I am embodying about them.

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