How to Increase Social Bonding When Meeting New People
Tom Oberle

Non-verbal communication with others is a critical aspect of social interaction. If you are on a first date or meeting new people, your body language says a lot about how you are feeling and what you think of the other person(s). In addition to body posture and movement, eye-contact, or ‘gaze’ is vital for initiating mimicry in another person. Mimicry is the social act of one person unconsciously (or sometimes consciously) mimicking the actions of another. It is a common phenomenon, which consequently can result in stronger social bonding.

Yin Wang and Antonia Hamilton released a study in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology in 2014, revealing their findings involving gaze and mimicry. Through two experiments the researchers found that mimicry in human subjects can be rapidly altered by eye contact paired with, or followed by, a hand movement task, which they have termed the eye-contact-mimicry (ECM) effect. In their study, a direct gaze rapidly enhanced the mimicry of hand movements in their test subjects.

Both eye-gaze and mimicry are important in social interaction. Eye-gaze provides a foundation for communication and conveys critical information about a person such as interests and intentions. Maintaining a direct gaze with others also conveys interpersonal interest. So, unless you strongly dislike your first date or the people you meet and are plotting your escape, maintaining eye contact is key for a good first impression and social bonding.

In the same way, the researchers suggest that in social situations, mimicry seems to facilitate social interaction and interpersonal relationship. It may act as a behavioural strategy to increase one’s social like-ability and function as a pro-social response to create social bonds. Mimicry generally occurs on an unconscious level. However, being aware of the other person’s movements by intentionally mimicking them, in a subtle way, can potentially increase social benefits associated with mimicry.

In their first experiment the researchers compared the effects of ‘direct gaze’, ‘averted gaze’, and ‘gaze to the acting hand.’ This was a two-gaze sequence. Research participants would watch a video of an actress whose first gaze would be either directly at them, averted, or at their own gesturing hand. The second gaze would be one of the three options above, making a total of nine different gaze scenarios. Only when the actress first gazed directly at the research participant and also during the hand action was mimicry in the research participant enhanced.

In their second experiment the researchers examined the enhancement of mimicry when a direct gaze from the actress was followed immediately by a ‘blink’, ‘shut-eyes’, or ‘occluded eye’. The researchers found that enhanced mimicry only occurred when the actress blinked. The results of both the experiments suggest that ongoing social engagement is necessary for enhanced mimicry.

About the Author: Tom Oberle is a philosophy student at the University of Guelph and the creator of The Telos Project [thetelosproject.com] which explores ideas on religion, theism, atheism, morality and ethics, spiritual experience, neuroscience, and psychology.

Reference

Hamilton, Antonia; Wang, Yin.Why does gaze enhance mimicry? Placing gaze-mimicry effects in relation to other gaze phenomena. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. 2014. 67 (4). 747-762, DOI: 10.1080/17470218.2013.828316