Social mimicry and theory of mind interactions

Social interactions are a daily necessity for most people’s mental and physical health because humans are typically highly social creatures (Taflinger, 1996). Humans have the ability to see the world though a social lens and consider other’s minds and feelings in order to empathize and interact with them. Some would argue that this ability to adopt other’s perspectives, theory of mind, is one of the most important social capacities (Wayatz, 2014). It allows for an individual to identify what the person they are interacting with is feeling and how they may react to a situation. This process is not necessarily automatic, however. It takes some level of conscious effort and motivation. This then puts a sort of limit on how much and how well someone can relate to others around them, leaving some ambiguity.

Mimicry is one method that can be used to help in social situations. Mimicry is found to be both conscious and unconscious depending on situations and type of mimicry. In many situations social mimicry can aid in empathy and facilitate bonding. One study found that both the person doing the mimicking and the person being mimicked “express more feelings of having bonded with each other and rated the reaction are smoother” (Mariëlle and Roos, 2010). Mimicry is used to help people relate to the other and feel like they are being understood and related to in return. This mimicry, as a result, increases the perceived empathy of the mimicker and increases the perceived positivity of the interaction. Saying this indicates that more mimicry then translates to more perceived positivity of the interaction and the person being mimicked is more likely to like the mimicker.

There have been a few studies showing the trend that mimicry leads to enhancing pro-social behavior toward the mimickers. On such study conducted by Van Baaren, Holland, Steenaert and Van Knippenberg (2003) found in two experiments that mimicking the verbal behavior of customers in a restaurant increased the size of the tips. Another study by Van Baaren, Holland, Kawakami and Van Knippenberg (2004) suggested that spontaneous helping behavior is also affected by mimicry. People who had their posture mimicked were more likely to help the person who had mimicked them even when the interaction between the two individuals was minimal.

Mimicry has especially been seen to play a role in the social interactions of individuals with mental disabilities that hinder their ability to interact with others, such as autism. Many people diagnosed with autism show difficulties relating to others, they lack the ability to detect emotions or infer other’s thought and intentions, hindered theory of mind. Additionally, these individuals often show reduced mimicking behaviors. A study done by Helt, Eigsti, Snyder, and Fein in 2010 shows that children with autism showed diminished susceptibility to contagious yawning, a behavior that is mostly unconscious mimicry, when compared with a developmentally normal child.

This difficulty mimicking and relating to others is a big part of the struggle that an individual with autism or another similar disorder faces. The diminished mimicking can lower the perceived positivity of an interaction and then reduce the perceived liking of the person. Often times it results in the avoidance of situations where they have to interact socially with others or others avoidance of individuals with such disorders in social situations (Dodd, 2005). This can cause a good amount of damage to the emotional health of such individuals. This shows the importance of mimicking in a social situation and how theory of mind can influence our every day lives as well as our general health.


Dodd, S. (2005). Understanding Autism. NSW: Elseveir Australia.

Helt, M. S., Eigsti, I.-M., Snyder, P. J., & Fein, D. A.. (2010). Contagious Yawning in Autistic and Typical Development. Child Development, 81(5), 1620–1631.

Mariëlle, S. & Roos, V. (2010). Mimicry in social interaction: Benefits for mimickers, mimickees, and their interaction. British Journal of Psychology, 101(2). 311-323.

Taflinger, R.F. (1996). Chapter 8: Human Cultural Evolution. Washington State University. Accessed on: Feb 28. Web:

Van Baaren, R.B., Holland, R.W., Kawakami, K. & Van Knippenberg, A. (2004). Mimicry and prosocial behavior. Psychological Science, 14. 71-74.

Van Baaren, R.B., Holland, R.W., Steenaert, B., & Van Knippenberg, A. (2003). Mimicry for money: Behavioral consequences of imitation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39. 393-398.

Waytz, A. (2014). Humans are by nature social animals. EdgeI, 18. Accessed on: Feb 28, 2016. Web:

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