New research provides evidence that shyness is associated with reduced behavioral mimicry through increased self-directed attention during novel social interactions. The findings are published in the Personality Research Journal†
“Behavioral mimicry — the automatic copying of someone else’s actions — is considered adaptive because it signals social interest, increases interpersonal sympathy and enables smooth social interactions,” said study author Kristie Poole, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology at the University of Waterloo.
“Since shy individuals tend to experience nervousness during new social interactions, we wanted to investigate whether they would be less likely to exhibit these adaptive social behaviors, as well as the mechanisms that might explain this relationship.”
In the study, 150 undergraduate students participated in a recorded Zoom session with an experimenter, who asked a series of five standardized questions and performed a preplanned behavior as they asked each question. To obscure the true purpose of the study, the participants were told that the researchers were investigating how personality traits related to perceptions of online platforms.
The participants then completed a self-focused attention assessment, in which they reported the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “I focused on my internal body reactions” and “I focused on the impression I made on the other person. ” They also completed a measure of shyness.
After systematically coding the recorded Zoom sessions, the researchers found that 42% of the participants mimicked the researcher at least once. Participants with a higher level of shyness also reported a higher level of self-focused attention during the Zoom session. In turn, those with a higher level of self-directed attention were less likely to exhibit behavioral mimicry.
“Our study found that undergraduate students with higher degrees of shyness were less likely to mimic an experimenter’s behavior during an online social interaction, which was explained by increased levels of self-directed attention during the interaction,” Poole said. to PsyPost.
“We interpret this finding to suggest that shy individuals may turn their attention inward during new social interactions (e.g., focusing on their pounding heart), which may hinder attention to be given to the social partner, and ultimately play a role in decreasing the likelihood that they engage in mimicking behavior.”
Importantly, the findings were maintained even after controlling for the frequency of spontaneous touches to the participants’ faces. But the study, like all research, has some caveats.
“In our study, we examined the relationships between shyness, self-directed attention and behavioral imitation during an unfamiliar social interaction,” Poole said. “An interesting direction for the future is to examine whether a similar pattern of results unfolds in the context of interactions with known others, such as friends or family. Because shy individuals tend to experience nervousness, especially during new social interactions, it is likely that self-directed attention is not increased during familiar interactions, meaning mimicking behavior in this context may not be affected.
“We measured behavioral mimicry during an active social context as the participant was expected and asked to respond to questions from the researcher,” Poole added. “We assume that in more passive In social contexts where the individual may take on an observing role, shyness may be related to increased behavioral mimicry as a way of blending into the social environment and staying out of the limelight. Some previous researchers have called this mixing function of behavioral mimicry “the chameleon effect.”
The study, “Shyness, Self-Oriented Attention, and Behavioral Mimicry During Social Interaction,” was authored by Kristie L. Poole and Heather A. Henderson.