People are Mirrors

I always thought that I was independent and that other people could affect me if and only if I allowed them to. But lately I’ve been wondering if my assumptions were correct. This article is the result of my observations and my lazy reluctance to look up scientific facts.

I am beginning to think that people’s influence on one another manifests itself daily, and that it does not rely on any previously established relationships between individuals. Instead, it works on a much lower level, one that often eludes consciousness entirely.

Here is a couple of examples:

  1. If I see a girl with wide eyes, narrow eyes, or a “stuck” expression on her face, such as of surprise, I automatically attempt to paste the same expression on my face. This is not at all related to any feeling of attraction I might experience, on the contrary, the reaction is stronger when the combination of features is rather repulsive. It is probably not limited to girls, but I guess that shows where my attention is
  2. If I listen to my math teacher yelling for five minutes, I get angry myself and I feel the acid rising in my stomach. This happens in spite of my efforts to take things lightly, stay uninvolved, and try to laugh it all off.
  3. It’s difficult to keep a neutral expression when I see a wide smile on a face that is full of light. It’s strange. But it’s still difficult to be the first one to smile
  4. After a certain time spent with a person, even if I happen to dislike them, I begin to mirror their accent and manner of speech. This is especially obvious to me when I stress the ‘r’, or utter expressions that I never thought I’d willfully use.

All this is intriguing, since I don’t normally want to mirror anybody. Perhaps it is an automated mechanism to aid in communication, but it’s pretty scary that it happens without my conscious consent. Where’s the on/off switch dammit?! It makes me ask myself who I really am.

On a lighter note, Copycat by The Cranberries just came on shuffle. How appropriate!

Copycat, copycat, copycat
Copy copy copy copy yourself
Copycat, copycat, copycat
Copy copy copy everyone else

7 Responses to People are Mirrors

  1. aporia says:

    The first three descriptions make me think of biological responses – just like babies will cry if they hear another baby cry.
    I know, this might sound so narrow-minded, but I’m a psych student so that’s my main perspective.

    With number 4… I’m exactly the opposite. With people I dislike I sustain myself easily; only when I like the person I would (subconsciously?) start copying their accent.

  2. diana says:

    Copycat, copycat, copycat
    Copy copy copy copy yourself
    Copycat, copycat, copycat
    Copy copy copy everyone else

  3. Constantin says:

    Thanks, I knew there must be some kind of scientific answer.

    That must be the single most ambiguous, perplexing and puzzling comment I’ve ever gotten.

  4. gr8dude says:

    Re: copying someone’s actions (facial expression, position, voice, etc): this is a known phenomenon, some folks made an experiment, I find it interesting; check out the movie “BBC_The_Human_Mind-Making_Friends” (visit your local torrent tracker).

    The experiment shows that people will replicate the behaviour of a person they like; and they will NOT do that if they interact with someone who is not pleasant, rude, etc.

    Other anecdotal evidence from the battle field: back in ’45 I watched Seinfeld; at least 7 years have passed, not I’m watching it again – and I notice a lot of things that are now a part of my personality (namely humour style). It turns out that I was influenced by these movies, and today I can trace these features back to particular episodes (-:

    Re: #1, perhaps this is an attempt to “establish contact via reverse engineering”. You see their face, set your face setting to their setting, thus they find themselves looking just like you, therefore it “must” mean they like you (not everyone is careful enough to notice that you replicate them, and not the other way around).

    I am heavily influenced by my friends, and this is mutual. They laugh like me, I use their favourite catch-phrases when talking to other people, etc. This is cool, as long as the friends are good folk and you don’t replicate violent or stupid behaviour (-;

  5. gr8dude says:


    Re: Aporia’s statement on babies. I don’t think these are the same, babies cry if they hear another baby cry [citation needed], maybe it is a very low-level function (because no thought is given, they just do it), while the copycat phenomenon is a higher level thing.

    High level, because it involves some sort of decision-making logic (ex: you don’t copy anyone). Of course this is not that high-level, because it does not happen consciously, but still – it is above the “biological layer”.

  6. Constantin says:

    Then it’s weird that it seems to work for me with disliked people as well. Perhaps there’s a difference between whether I *think* I like a person and whether I actually do. Even then, good luck defining “like”…

    I’ll definitely check out that movie.

  7. aporia says:

    I used the baby example only because the author consistently mentioned the “difficulty” in resisting the copying act. Such as, without an intention or predisposed purpose. It sounded like it couldn’t be helped.
    I know I might be completely wrong but at the time of commenting, that’s what I thought at least.

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