Narcissists use behavioral mimicry to make people like them more so that they can maintain their inflated self-view, new research suggests.
How do we know if someone is a friend or a foe? We often judge a person’s social motive on the basis of subtle nonverbal cues. The degree o which a person imitates bodily, vocal, or facial expressions of another person indicates whether that person is a friend or a foe. If someone mimics us, we are more likely to perceive that person as a friend:
“When a person subtly mimics their interaction partner, they are perceived to be more likable, empathic, and trustworthy … The expression of behavioral mimicry is facilitated by the motivations to affiliate and perceptions of closeness and interdependence” (p. 643).
The desire to be liked is independent from genuine liking, and it is associated with automatic, non-conscious and nonverbal behaviors. We may want to be liked for a number of reasons (e.g., in-group affiliation, a more positive self-view, and the mere joy of being liked):
“Waiters increase their chances of being liked by customers by raising their eyebrows, heightening their vocal pitch, seeking eye contact, and shifting their posture forward … in response to a desire to be liked by customers (for larger tips and positive word of mouth)” (p. 643).
New research by Ashton-James & Levordashka (2013) has examined how narcissists use mimicry behaviours to create perceptions of affiliation. The narcissist’s self-centered desire to be liked by others is believed to facilitate mimicry behaviors because this makes people like them more, and as a result, they maintain their inflated self-view.
The study shows that narcissists have a chronic desire to be liked by higher status others. The narcissists exhibited more behavioral mimicry of higher status others than lower status others.
This is despite the fact that they reported less affection for the higher status interaction partner than non-narcissists did. In other words, the narcissists’ behavioral mimicry reflected their desire to be liked rather than genuine liking.This study suggests that some people with certain personalities, and under certain conditions, use mimicry to gain something.
However, the self-interested desire to be liked, in the absence of actual liking, may be situationally induced in anyone, and behavioral mimicry may accordingly be increased in these situations. So behavioral mimicry may reflect people’s specific motives:
“People are motivated to self-present in a variety of different situations (e.g., first dates, job interviews) and in interaction with a variety of different types of people (e.g., one’s boss, or someone particularly influential or even threatening).” (p. 646).
In sum, this study shows that narcissists use behavioural mimicry as a strategic social behaviour to be liked more by others, especially higher status others, in the absence of genuine liking.