The Modulation of Mimicry by Ethnic Group-Membership and Emotional Expressions

Birgit Rauchbauer, Jasminka Majdandžić, Stefan Stieger, Claus Lamm

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

37 Citations (Scopus)


Mimicry has been ascribed affiliative functions. In three experiments, we used a newly developed social-affective mimicry task (SAMT) to investigate mimicry´s modulation by emotional facial expressions (happy, angry) and ethnic group-membership (White in-group, Black out-group). Experiment 1 established the main consistent effect across experiments, which was enhanced mimicry to angry out-group faces compared to angry in-group faces. Hence the SAMT was useful for experimentally investigating the modulation of mimicry. Experiment 2 demonstrated that these effects were not confounded by general aspects of response conflict, as a Simon task resulted in different response patterns than the SAMT. Experiment 2 and pooled analysis of Experiments 1 and 2 also corroborated the finding of enhanced mimicry to angry out-group faces. Experiment 3 tested whether this effect was related to perceptions of threat, by framing angry persons as physically threatening, or not. Selective enhancement of mimicry to out-group persons framed as physically threatening confirmed this hypothesis. Further support for the role of threat was derived from implicit measures showing, in all experiments, that black persons were more strongly associated with threat. Furthermore, enhanced mimicry was consistently related to response facilitation in the execution of congruent movements. This suggests that mimicry acted as a social congruency signal. Our findings suggest that mimicry may serve as an appeasement signal in response to negative affiliative intent. This extends previous models of mimicry, which have predominantly focused on its role in reciprocating affiliation. It suggests that mimicry might not only be used to maintain and establish affiliative bonds, but also to ameliorate a negative social situation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0161064
Pages (from-to)e0161064
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2016
Externally publishedYes


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