Research shows that liking and similarity are powerful weapons of persuasion (Cialdini, 1984). Studies have tested these persuasive techniques in a retail context, for example, Coulter and Coulter (2000) showed that, as perceived similarity between customer and service employees increased, customer trust also increased. One way of enhancing similarity and liking is through mimicry, commonly known as ‘The Chameleon effect’ or ‘monkey see, monkey do’(Chartrand & Bargh, 1999) and involves the unconscious imitation of another’s posture, mannerisms and other verbal and non-verbal behaviours. Not only does mimicry increase the behavioural similarity between individuals but it additionally makes people feel more similar towards their mimicker (Stel & Vonk, 2004) and perceive them as sharing similar attitudes (Bailenson & Yee, 2005). This interaction creates more favourable evaluations of the mimicker and the interaction more generally (Chartrand and Bargh, 1999, study 2). These authors found that participants who were mimicked by a confederate reported more liking and described their interactions as smoother and more harmonious than those whose behaviour was not mimicked.
Jacobi et al.’s (2003) investigated the effectiveness of mimicry on liking and compliance in a sales environment. Their objectives were firstly to test the effect of mimicry on customer’s judgements and behaviour. The behaviour was evaluated in terms of whether or not the customer complied with the seller’s product suggestion. Secondly, the authors tested the customer’s perception of the mimicker and the store. Because of mimicry’s association with increased liking (Chartrand & Bargh, 1999) it was hypothesised that; mimicking salespeople, their suggestions and the store, would all be evaluated more favourably by customers as well as increase compliance.
The first experiment was set in a department store where MP3-Players were sold. The sample was comprised of 132 lone shoppers who asked one of four salespeople for assistance. The salesperson was asked to offer suggestions to the customer. In the mimicry condition the salesperson was told to mimic the customer’s verbal and physical behaviour. For example, if the customer said “Hello! Could you help me to choose a MP3 player?” the non-mimicry response was “Yes, of course”, whereas the mimicry response was “Hello! Of course I can help you to choose a MP3 player”. The mimickers had to repeat at least five verbal expressions used by the customer as well as mimic nonverbal behaviour five times. The non-mimickers had to avoid such mimicking. After leaving the store customers completed a questionnaire to evaluate the seller and the store.
The results showed that in the mimicry condition 78.8% of customers complied and bought an MP3-Player and 71.1% chose a model the seller suggested. Whereas 61.8% of customers complied and bought an MP3-Player in the non-mimicry condition and only 46.2% chose a suggested model. The table below reflects increased liking for the sellers and the store as positive evaluations were consistently higher in the mimicry condition.
The second experiment incorporated a baseline condition to assess whether buying increased when the customer was mimicked or whether it decreased when the customer was not mimicked (which couldn’t be known from the first experiment). Using a similar procedure, Experiment 1’s results were replicated.
Overall, mimicry increased compliance as more people bought a product and the product was more likely to be one the seller suggested. The second experiment confirmed that mimicry was associated with increased buying and not a decrease when behaviour was not mimicked. Therefore mimicry had a greater persuasion effect than non-mimicry and led to more positive evaluations and liking. Jacobi et al. (2008) offer some explanations as to how mimicry produces this persuasive effect. For example, they suggest that mimicry created a positive mood which increased compliance and liking, which is supported by research (Petty et al., 1993). Increased positive feelings towards the mimickers may have led customers to reciprocate by complying with the mimicker’s suggestion. Reciprocity has also been supported by research (Regan, 1971). The authors predict that positive service and store evaluations could reinforce customer loyalty and thus these findings may encourage retailers to use mimicry in their customer service to improve sales.
Who knew that simply copying someone’s behaviour could make them like you and comply with you more?!
Bailenson, J. N., & Yee, N. (2005). Digital chameleons: Automatic assimilation of nonverbal gestures in immersive virtual environments. Psychological Science, 16, 814–819.
Chartrand, T. L., & Bargh, J. A., (1999). The chameleon effect: the perception-behavior link and social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, pp. 893–910.
Cialdini, R. B., (1984). The psychology of persuasion. New York: Quill William Morrow.
Coulter, K. S., & Coulter, R. H., (2000).The effects of service representative characteristics on trust: the moderating role of length of relationship C.T. Gundlach, P.E. Murphy (Eds.), AMA Summer Educators' Conference Proceedings: Enhancing Knowledge Development in Marketing, American Marketing Association, Chicago, IL, pp. 1–2
Jacoba, C., Guéguena, N., Martina, A., & Boulbry, G., (2011). Retail salespeople's mimicry of customers: Effects on consumer behaviour . Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, Volume 18, 381–388.
Petty, R. E., Schumann, D.W., Richman, S. A., & Strathman, A. (1993). Positive mood and persuasion: Different roles for affect under high- and low-elaboration conditions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,64, 5-20.
Regan, R. T., (1971). Effects of a favor and liking on compliance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7: 627-639.
Stel, M. & Vonk, R. (2004). The social functions of facial mimicry: Effects on empathy, understanding, feelings of similarity, and liking. In D. Wigboldus, M. Dechesne, E. Kluwer, & E. Gordijn (Eds.), Jaarboek Sociale Psychologie 2003. Delft: Eburon