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Extended essay on Mimicry in humans Paper

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Paper type: Essay , Subject: Autism Spectrum Disorders

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The confederates in the video described a picture and touched or rubbed their face. A base line period was recorded of the frequency that the participants touched or rubbed their face. It was found that participants were detected to touch or rub their face more frequently when viewing the video of the in group member when compared to the baseline period. Conversely, when the out group member was presented the frequency of face touching or rubbing decreased because the desire to affiliate is low and subsequently so was the behavioural mimicry.

It is evident that mimicry was used to signify similarity and affiliation with the speaker, and to signpost the social category to which they belonged. The participants unconsciously mimicked the behaviours of the in group because they wanted to feel a sense of belonging and purpose. Similarity is associated with a higher level of mimicry and supports the explanation that mimicry is used to create affiliation, rapport and a sense of belonging (Gueguen and Martin, 2009). Other studies have reinforced this relationship between mimicry and the need for affiliation.

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A study conducted by Stel et al. (2010) found that automatic mimicry among participants increased when they had a reason to like the target participant. This can be explained by the fact that people tend to affiliate more with those whom they like. Similarly, another study by Lakin et al. (2008) found that people often use mimicry as a cheap, low-risk tool to address their acceptance and affiliation needs. BENEFITS OF MIMICRY Individuals often use mimicry as a way of gaining social acceptance.

However, apart from creating affiliation, automatic mimicry is known to have several other advantages as well. Studies have shown that an important consequence of mimicry on the individual is that boosts the self-esteem. A study conducted by Kouzavoka et al. (2008) examined the relationship between mimicry and self-esteem of individuals. In one of their studies participants were asked how happy they were in a relationship with a significant other. Next, they were either mimicked or not mimicked by a confederate.

After this manipulation, they completed a self esteem implicit association test (IAT) which was then proceeded by another relationship satisfaction questionnaire. The results presented indicated that the non-mimicked participants had lower implicit self esteem compared to the mimicked ones, and that the non-mimicked participants rated their relationship with an important significant other more satisfactorily when compared to the baseline evaluation given at the start of the experiment before the mimicry manipulation.

This indicates a direct linear relationship between mimicry and self-esteem. It also indicates that partaking in social interactions in which mimicry is freely traded enables the individuals to have a sense of belonging, which in turn increases their sense of self-worth. Another advantage of mimicry is that individuals are more likely to act supportively and cooperatively towards someone who subtly mimics their behaviour. This is especially true in case of behavioural mimicry, which is when people mimic the other’s gestures and postures.

For example, if one person leans forward and touches their hair, the person to whom they are conversing with may engage in the same action. An individual is more likely to mimic someone whom they would like to form a supportive and trusting bond. Therefore if a person is mimicked, they spontaneously feel an air of support and trust. The consequence of these feelings is an increase of cooperative behaviours (Lakin and Chartrand, 2003). Studies have shown that when people seek to build a strong social bond of cooperation, trust and support they highlight their similarities to the other through mimicry.

A study conducted by Stel and Vonk (2010) measured the effects of mimicry between participants in face to face interactions. The results of the study indicated that participants feel more tuned in to each other when they mimicked each other. Additionally, the participants also reported a stronger feeling of bonding and smoother interactions when they were mimicked. Therefore, it can be implied that when an individual finds the drive to build a strong relationship with another, he/she will highlight their similarities though mimicry of the other’s facial expressions, mannerisms, speech patterns and style.

The feeling of bonding as a consequence of mimicry was explored in detail in a study conducted by Ashton -James et al. (2007) in which the researchers uncovered one of the mechanisms that might arbitrate the association between mimicry and cooperation. In the study, the participants underwent an interview with the researchers about their memory of everyday events. During the interview the participant was either mimicked or not mimicked by the experimenter. In the mimicked condition the experimenter was trained to subtly copy the behaviours of the participant.

In the no mimicry condition the experimenter had to actively refrain from mimicking the participants’ gestures and postures. After the interview, the participants were given an open ended questionnaire designed to test self construals in response to the question “who am I? “. The results of the study indicated that after individuals were mimicked they were more inclined to answered the questions in the survey alluding to their social roles or relationships than personal attributes associated with physical descriptor’s or attitude. This shows that that mimicry induces a collective self-construal.

In particular, after individuals are mimicked, they are more likely to adopt a collective self-construal, which means they tend to perceive themselves as one entity of a broader collective and not an independent, detached person and are more likely to show pro-social behaviour. The results of the study further indicated that, when participants were asked if they would help a different PhD student it was the individuals who presented the collective self construal that were more likely to exhibit the pro-social behaviour and agree to help the anonymous PhD student.

These results show that mimicry can help in pro-social behaviour and cooperation. This positive link between mimicry and pro-social behaviour is reinforced by other researchers as well. A study by van Baaren et al. (2004) indicated that people who were mimicked were more helpful and generous towards others including people who were not involved in the mimicry. This shows that mimicry encourages pro-social behaviour. Similarly, another study by Stel et al. (2008) found that people engaged in mimicry donated more money to charity as compared to people who did not mimic.

The results of this study show that mimicry creates more empathy and pro-social tendencies in people. Therefore, it can be said that mimicry not only helps in positive social interactions, but also helps in better social bonding, increases self-esteem of individuals and encourages cooperative behaviour in social situations. INABILITY TO MIMIC AND CONSEQUENCES An underlying principle of psychology is that everything that is psychological was first biological. This is no different for mimicry as it is believed to have roots in the biology of the human nervous system.

Pentland (2010) explains that cortical mirror neurons have been linked to mimicry. These neurons are specific structures dispersed throughout the brain and are pronounced in humans but can also be found in other primates. Pentland (2010) suggests that “mirror neurons react to other people’s actions and provide a direct feed back channel between people”. This provides ample reason to believe that mimicry is not a learned behaviour, rather an innate behaviour. The above notion is supported by new born babies who try and mimic their parents’ facial expressions and movements regardless of the lack of development of their muscles and coordination.

It is important to recognize that the babies are untouched by culture and do not have sufficient development and experience to create schemas, yet are attempting to practice the complex social interaction that is mimicry. Research is currently emerging on the importance of mirror neurons. Rizzolatti and Craighero (2005) explain that humans are social creatures and that mirror neurons allow human beings to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direction simulation.

According to Rizzolatti and Craighero (2005), mirror neurons are activated when a person observes an action like watching someone reach for a glass of water as well as when the person performs the action himself like reaching for the glass of water. Thus it can be understood that at a very basic level of mimicry is due to the pure biology of the human body and as the individual grows and develops the complexity of mimicry also increases to create the complex web that it becomes upon full maturity. While biological factors are responsible for the occurrence of mimicry, they can also be responsible for the inability to mimic.

People who are placed on the autism spectrum have reported difficulties in mimicry. Extensive testing on behavioural patterns can characterize precise autistic profiles. Autistic profiles can be understood as profiles with a weak performance on tasks that require an understanding of mental states, abnormal imitation and emulation processing but perform stronger in tasks that require perception of detail (Frith, 2003). The fundamental social process of mimicry may thus be impaired in case of the autism disorder characterized by socio-emotional and communicative deficits.

McIntosh et al. (2006) examined automatic and voluntary mimicry of emotional facial expressions among adolescents and adults with autistic spectrum disorders and a typical sample matched on age gender and verbal intelligence. Participants viewed pictures of happy and angry expressions while the activity over their cheek and brow region was monitored with electromyography (EMG). Autistic spectrum disorder patients did not automatically mimic facial expressions whereas typically developing patients participants did.

However, both groups did show successful voluntary mimicry. The data from this study suggests that autism is associated with an impairment of a basic automatic social-emotional process. Icaoboni and Dapretto (2006) tried to explain the inability for automatic mimicry in autism with the help of the ‘broken mirror’ theory of autism which suggests that children with autism have a dysfunction of the mirror neuron system which is the primary cause of their disability. The mirror neuron regions of the brain have several important functions.

Firstly, they are a part of the motor system and are extremely important in controlling actions such as visually guided goal hand actions, or in other words emulation tasks, like using a fork or hammering a nail (Buccino et al. , 2004). The second thing that the mirror neuron region of the brain is responsible for is social functioning, namely imitation and action observation tasks (Buccino et al. , 2004). However, if individuals with autism have a dysfunctional mirror neuron system, it would mean that they are impaired in all cognitive tasks which depend on the mirror neuron system.

So, this theory would mean that a person with autism wouldn’t be able to complete such tasks of using a fork or hammering a nail because the whole of the mirror neuron system would be dysfunctional, and this is simply not the case. In order to explain this anomaly, several researchers have proposed variations or alternatives of the “broken mirror” theory. Hamilton (2008) presents research of a behavioural study of the mirror neuron system function in autism to test the theory.

In this study, 25 autistic children were tested with the verbal mental age of four years and six months and were matched to controls. Their motor planning and gesture understanding abilities were examined. It was found that, both autistic children and controls were able to plan an action better after they had observed the experimenter performing it first. It was also found that children with autism were of a higher standard in judging whether a picture or a gesture matched a cartoon, when compared to the control group.

These results don’t agree with the ‘broken mirror’ theory as the mirror neuron system was still in use and intact, which calls for further refining of the theory. Therefore, Hamilton (2008) makes sense of the findings by segregating the tasks performed into two categories, emulation and mimicry and then suggests an alternate perspective on the role of mirror neurons and mimicry. Autistic children show normal performance and normal brain activity on imitation tasks which involve a goal or object (Hamilton, 2008).

If these are considered as emulations tasks, using the word in the sense of goal directed imitation (Byrne and Russon, 1998), autistic children can succeed at these tasks and this therefore suggests that areas of their mirror neuron systems are still intact and are not completely dysfunctional. In contrast, the tasks in which the autistic individuals are poor at can be classified as mimicry, in a broad sense, because the task entails the participant to spontaneously copy low level actions, such as smiling and holding eye contact.

This highlights that not all of the mirror neuron system is working because autistic individuals can not unconsciously mimic meaningless actions in order to facilitate social interaction. To provide a more refined theory for the causes of autism Hamilton (2008) proposes that the mirror neuron system should be broken into two different segments or pathways. The EP-M model advocates that the mirror neurons system has two main segments – the first segment is the Emulation and Processing route (EP) which is associated with goal emulation and planning, and the other segment is the direct route of mimicry (M).

An example of the EP route is when an adult takes a toy hammer and with exaggerated gestures, taps the top a peg. The child will watch this task and understand that the goal is to tap the peg (E-route). He/She will then grab the hammer and tap the peg (P-route). It is understood that autistic children can perform such emulation and therefore their EP routes are intact. However, it is evident that individuals with autism can’t mimic within a social interaction to facilitate the social encounter and thus will have complete dysfunction in the M-route.

Therefore, it can be said that the consequences of not being able to mimic manifest themselves in the form of poor social skills, impaired communication and social interactions, inability to form social bonds and reduced pro-social behaviour all of which are characteristic of autism (Frith, 2003). CONCLUSION In conclusion, human beings regardless of age, automatically mimic a variety of behaviours, provided they have the biology to support this instinct, unlike individuals that lie on the autism spectrum. This mimicking behaviour is intrinsic and facilities social functioning and coordination on many levels.

It also has various other benefits like increasing positive self-esteem, facilitating cooperation and bonding, creating feelings of empathy as well as encouraging pro-social behaviour. Mimicry is a complex phenomenon which does not have a simple cause and effect explanation and the reasons for why this behaviour occurs center around a few key concepts. Firstly, mimicry is a partly cognitive process which is guided by the use of implicit schemas. The use of these schemas enables the social interaction of mimicry to occur efficiently and effortlessly and places little burden on self regulatory processes.

Schemas for mimicry also provide a cognitive framework that subconsciously guides the amount of mimicry that will take place in any social circumstance (Dalton et al. , 2010). Secondly, similarity between social categories increases mimicry because each human has the basic need to belong. This is evident in studies conducted on the relationship between mimicry and social affiliation. The reason that humans have the need to signify their relationships in such manner is explained through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Put simply, mimicry is used as a tool, unconsciously by people to help us fill the need to belong.

Also, other studies have shown that mimicry not only fulfills the need to belong but it also helps to build self-esteem and self worth of an individual when they are mimicked (Yabar et al. , 2006; Lakin et al. , 2008). Finally, as a result of mimicry individuals are more like to act supportively and cooperatively towards someone who subtly mimics their behaviour (Lakin and Chartrand, 2003; Stel and Vonk, 2010). This is because mimicry conjures feelings of support and trust between the two parties and the consequence is more cooperative and pro social behaviour (Kouzavoka et al.

, 2008). Studies have also shown that mimicry creates feelings of empathy and makes individuals behave more generously towards others thereby encouraging social bonding and cooperation among individuals (Ashton-James et al. , 2007; Baaren et al. , 2004; Stel et al. , 2008). A biological explanation of mimicry is understood through the use of the mirror neuron system. This system is complex and fires when a person observes an action as well as engages in the action. This is unique to the mirror neurons which are specific structures linked to mimicry.

It is also understood that ASD sufferers do not display mimicry and this is because they have dysfunctional mirror neurons. The specific explanations of what is wrong with the mirror neurons in ASD sufferers is explained by the ‘broken mirror’ theory as well as alterations of the theory like the EP-M model (Icaoboni and Dapretto, 2006; Hamilton, 2008). This model proposes that not all of the mirror neurons in ASD sufferers are dysfunctional, only the M-route is, which is responsible for the subtle, unconscious behaviour that facilitates social interaction, in other words, mimicry.

As a consequence of this defective neuron system, autism sufferers often have poor social skills, communication problems and developmental issues.

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