December 15, 2010

Imitation: the Sincerest Form of Flattery?

We humans are fairly strange and complex creatures. It's interesting how we interact consciously and especially unconsciously with each other. You've probably heard of the phrase 'body language,' where we unconsciously react to a situation or person physically to indicate our feelings. This may include things like crossing our arms or legs when we feel uncomfortable or threatened, women flicking their long hair when they see a potential mate, or men wearing belt buckles as large as their head to indicate their virility.

But there are still human behaviours which have scientists a little puzzled including: why we yawn; and why people actually seem to want to listen to rap music [now please don't write me letters of protest – I'm sure you're far too busy holding up your baggy jeans or polishing your bling.]

I'm a bit of an observer of human behaviour and I especially enjoy watching people's interactions with each other. For example, when people go to hug each other, in most cases people put their right arm up in the air and their left arm down as they reach in for the hug. The hug recipient mirrors the action. 

Knowing this tendency, on occasion I like to do the opposite to watch people's reactions. Mostly there is just the briefest of hesitations before the other huggee switches arms. 

It's not like I'm some kind of sick puppy who likes playing with people's minds – it's not as if I wave my arms up and down like a demented windmill just to see their response, well at least not that I'm admitting to, no matter how much fun it might seem.
And have you noticed that when a woman puts on lipgloss or lipstick, those around watching her sometimes begin to twitch their mouths a little as if they want to purse their lips in imitation? Have you found yourself wanting to do the same thing? And on a similar theme, why is that when we start talking to somebody with a strong foreign accent, we seem to pick up traces of their accent in our speech when we talk with them? Oh! Is that just me?

At the dentists one time while I was being fitted with a special mouth plate (that I've decided makes me look sexy rather than like Jaws from the James Bond movies), and I was endeavouring to talk with it in my mouth. After I spoke, the technician mumbled something indistinctly in reply. She paused and turning to me said quite clearly, "Why was I talking like I was the one with the plate in my mouth?" I laughed because she had mimicked my speech.

Which takes me back to my first statement – we humans are fairly strange and complex creatures – no wonder I feel at home here at times!

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