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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Parrot to persuade

Everyone recalls that incredibly annoying childhood game where a kid mimics your every movement or word. “Stop it, that’s annoying,” you say.
“Stop it, that’s annoying,” the child parrots.

Apparently, there’s more to mimicry than pissing someone off. A new study shows that mimicking body language during a conversation can help convince someone of your perspective. Folks at Stanford used a virtual human operated by a computer to subtly mimic the actions of test subjects while trying to talk them into accepting a new campus ID card.

In other words, your best bet in trying to sell something is being a bit of a copycat.

The disturbing part of this is the potential for someone conscious of the effect to take advantage of you. A salesman knows he’s got a better chance of a sell, so he practices up on mimicking his targets without them noticing. A politician learns to mimic body language to get your vote (perhaps by promising to protect you from people who “hate America”).

I’m sure that some people who are naturally charismatic probably do this unconsciously already. In fact, it’s probably part of why they are so charismatic. So why do I find it disturbing that someone would use this to their advantage?

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