Current Issue: Vol. 7-1 (03/09/2009)



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Applying Psychology to MMORPGs: Automatic Mimicry

Research in social and organizational psychology has consistently shown for many years that when people or groups interact, many of their verbal and non-verbal cues become synchronized almost immediately. For example, the timing of gestures becomes synchronized (Kendon, 1970), and group members mirror each other's posture and mannerisms (LaFrance, 1982; LaFrance & Broadbent, 1976). Individuals in a conversation will also mirror each other's accents and speech patterns (Cappella & Panalp, 1981), and syntax (Levelt & Kelter, 1982). In fact, many human behaviors seem to be contagious, such as yawning (Provine, 1986), laughter (Provine, 1992), and even moods (Neumann & Strack, 2000). Researchers have suggested that this synchronization is an automatic human behavior that functions as a regulator of trust and rapport in social interactions (Kendon, 1970; LaFrance, 1982).

Recent research has demonstrated more precisely that when people interact, they in fact unconsciously mimic each other's behavior. In one study (Chartrand & Bargh, 1999), subjects interacted with a confederate (a research assistant who pretends to be another subject) in a collaborative task. The confederate performed a series of movements (foot shaking and touching their face) and it was found that subjects would unintentionally match those behaviors themselves. More importantly, in a different part of that study, confederates were asked to either mimic or not mimic the subject's behaviors and it was found that subjects judged confederate mimickers as more likeable than confederate non-mimickers.

Instead of merely influencing attitudes, automatic mimicry has also been shown to influence observable behaviors as well. For example, waiters who verbally mimic their customers' orders (by repeating the order) receive bigger tips than when they say something else instead (like ‘Coming right up') (van Baaren, Holland, Steenaert, & van Knippenberg, 2003). In fact, when a person is mimicked, they become more generous not only towards the mimicker, but to everyone else in general (van Baaren, Holland, Kawakami, & van Knippenberg, 2004). Mimicry increases an individual's prosocial behavior. This process also happens the other way. Affiliation goals increase the frequency of automatic mimicry in interactions (Lakin & Chartrand, 2003).

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