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Ursula Hess and Agneta Fischer

What is the role of emotional mimicry in intergroup relations? There are different theoretical accounts of the function and underlying processes of emotional mimicry. A review of research on emotional mimicry suggests that, in general, emotional mimicry reinforces existing group boundaries, rather than breaking or dissolving them. Specifically, there is consistent evidence that people tend to mimic similar others more than dissimilar others. Given that ingroup members are by definition more similar to each other than to outgroup members, this implies that the former are more likely to be mimicked than the latter. In turn, mimicry improves social bonds with others, which then facilitates ingroup relations. The most primitive and implicit pathway for mimicry is via embodiment, and it can only take place when there is an actual interaction between group members. To the degree that such processes are presumed to be automatic, it is likely that they tend to reinforce social exclusion of outgroup members. By contrast, the most explicit pathway to mimicry is via perspective taking, in which one deliberately tries to take the other’s perspective. This process does not require the actual presence of members of other groups, but some form of empathy when judging or expecting to meet other group members. This process is more amenable to top-down influences. The research on mimicry also converges on the notion that when mimicry (or in fact other forms of behavior matching) is present, interactions can be expected to be more affiliative. Thus, with effort, mimicry can also be a tool for improving intergroup relations. As always, however, it requires more effort to cross group boundaries than to stay within them.


In understanding crowd psychology and its explanation of conflict and violence, there are different theoretical approaches that turn on different understandings of communication processes. There are three models of communication in the crowd worth reviewing: classic, normative, and dynamic. Classic models suggest that crowd members are influenced by an idea of emotion presented to them. Normative models suggest that influence is constrained by what is seen as consonant with group norms. And, finally, dynamic models examine how that which becomes normative in the group depends upon intergroup relations. The last of these approaches can explain the patterned, socially meaningful and yet changing nature of crowd action. Crowd action, itself, is a form of communication because it serves to shape the social understandings of participants as well as the social understandings of those beyond the crowd. It is argued that the nature and centrality of crowds contribute to the understanding and creating of social relations in society.