If you mimic other people while getting to know them, it will make them like you more, according to a study by the Free University of Berlin and the University of Leipzig.

The researchers say there are “social chameleons” out there – people who imitate others particularly often.

“In our study, we were able to show that this mimicking behaviour made the social chameleons more popular,” says psychologist Helen Liebermann of the Free University of Berlin.

In the study, a total of 139 participants were observed while interacting in small groups. Scientists used video recordings to assess the extent to which they imitated other people’s behaviour, posture, gestures, facial expressions or way of speaking.

Before talking to each particular person and afterwards, participants were asked how pleasant they found the person. People who already found the person pleasant after their first conversation were more likely to mimic their behaviour or their expressions.

“Through mimicry, we unconsciously communicate that we like someone and can therefore increase our own popularity that way,” explains Maike Salazar Kaempf of the University of Leipzig.

When we already find the other person pleasant, we are likely to get more involved with them. So unconscious imitation can apparently help establish connections between people.

And yet it also has drawbacks, as researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands found in a study carried out in 2009. People who mimic can be deceived by others more easily, that team showed.

But there are also drawbacks. People who mimic can be deceived by others more easily.

In that study, with a total of 92 participants, researchers created two groups. Members of the first group were given a small amount of money that they could either keep or donate to charity. They were then asked to give information to members of the second group (sometimes true, sometimes false) about what they had done with the money.

The second group was also divided into two sub-groups. Half of them were asked to mimic the speakers, and the other half were asked to consciously avoid doing that. The listeners then had to assess whether they had been told the truth. Participants who had avoided mimicking generally assessed the speakers more accurately.

“Mimicry facilitates the ability to understand what other people are feeling,” wrote psychologist Marielle Stel and her team.

However, when the speaker’s behaviour does not match their true emotions, it is the other way around. “In the case of deceptive messages, mimicry hinders this emotional understanding,” experts noted based on the Leiden study. – dpa/Oliver Beckhoff