A Walk Through the Park: Understanding Emotional Mimicry in an Ecological Context


In everyday life, we are surrounded by people who experience and express emotions, and we are called upon to react appropriately, depending on our relationship with the other person and the context of the interaction. One fundamentally relevant reaction is emotional mimicry, the imitation of the emotional expressions of others. Mimicry is sometimes referred to as “social glue” because of its important role for social closeness. Specifically, people want to affiliate with those who mimic them and in turn they mimic those with whom they want to affiliate. The Emotional Mimicry in Context view by Hess and Fischer (2013) emphasizes the importance of social context variables as moderators of affiliative intent and thereby of mimicry. The proposed research extends this view to include a neglected but essential aspect of context – the emotions it elicits. Specifically, many interactions occur in emotionally charged contexts and the emotions experienced by interaction partners influence their desire for affiliation. The proposed research has the aim to study the combined influence of emotional states and the affiliative nature of the interaction partner on mimicry in an ecological setting in which emotions are induced via environmental stimuli. For this, we will create a virtual reality “walk in the park” in which participants encounter affect inducting events and “meet” ingroup/ outgroup members (Study 1) as well as individuals differing in facial dominance/affiliation (Study 2) who show context (in)appropriate expressions (happiness, sadness, anger).The affective ambience in which participants encounter their virtual interaction partners, and the context appropriateness of their expressions, as well as the affiliation motive they elicit, are expected to affect participants’ desire to affiliate. We predict that high arousal negative situations will be least conducive to mimicry, except for high affiliative targets who are perceived as similar. By contrast, mimicry of low affiliative targets (outgroup members, faces low in affiliativeness) will be mimicked in enhanced in pleasant contexts, where perceivers have more psychological resources, especially when targets show appropriate expressions.The proposed research has the aim to fill an important gap in our understanding of social context effects. Even though everyday social contexts are frequently affect-laden, only very few studies have even considered concurrent affect as a moderator of mimicry. Even those have typically manipulated emotions prior to the mimicry task. By contrast, the proposed research will embed participants in an ecologically valid virtual reality context in which the induced affect is directly related to the situation in which emotional others are encountered and mimicked. This approach will bring us closer to understanding the processes underlying this important facilitator of human social interactions as they occur in everyday life.


Principal Investigators
Hess, Ursula Prof. Dr. (Details) (Social Psychology and Organizational Psychology)

Duration of Project
Start date: 01/2020
End date: 12/2021

Research Areas
Social Psychology, Industrial and Organisational Psychology

Last updated on 2021-15-07 at 13:40