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.
Ursula Hess and Agneta Fischer
M. Jeffrey Farrar, Yao Guan, and Kaitlyn Erhardt
Humans live not only in a physical world but also in a mental world. Theory of mind reflects the understanding that the mind is comprised of different mental states, such as intentions, desires, and beliefs. This conception of the mind is a critical achievement in human development because it directly impacts effective communication and social interaction. It allows for the understanding of others’ behaviors by inferring their mental states. The formation of a theory of mind has been a central topic in psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, and philosophy. It impacts related processes, such as communication skills, perspective-taking ability, and social cognition. Across the life span, the understanding of the mind becomes increasingly complex. Early in development, infants and toddlers can discern the intentions of others. Later, more sophisticated reasoning about the mental states of others becomes possible. For instance, the ability to follow and understand the recursive thought that “Sam believes, that Mary said, that Jose wanted . . .” develops. Additionally, within distinctive developmental time periods, people differ in their ability to take into account mental states. Once people’s beliefs, including their misconceptions, are identified, it is possible to generate effective communication strategies designed to teach, learn, and even reduce risk-taking behaviors.