If you look at your phone, other people nearby will do the same in less than a minute, a new study finds.
Researchers in Italy explored human ‘facial expressions’ or the ‘chameleon effect’ – unconsciously replicating the physical actions of another human.
Of the 184 people, half replicated the action of touching and looking at their phone 30 seconds after an unconscious trigger, they found.
The experts say that smartphone copying is similar to the well-known ‘contagious yawn’ phenomenon, when a person yawns in response to someone else’s yawn.
Mammals have evolved to unknowingly mimic the behavior of others without knowing it – likely to aid in group bonding.
However, staring at someone’s smartphone is unlikely to have any social benefits in a group as it is such an isolated activity.
You may want to try this with your friends – look at your phone and see how long it takes them to do the same
The research was conducted by a team of behavioral experts from the University of Pisa, Italy.
“Our findings advance our understanding of mimicry in the use of smartphones on an everyday social scale and indicate that mimicry may be at the root of the widespread use of these devices at scale,” they say.
‘The use of smartphones can increase social isolation through interference and disruption of ongoing activities in real life.’
THE CHAMELEON EFFECT
The chameleon effect refers to unconscious mimicry of the postures, mannerisms, facial expressions and other behaviors of a person’s interaction partners.
It means that a person’s behavior changes passively and unintentionally to match that of others in the current social environment.
The chameleon effect has been shown to have a positive effect on people’s social interactions.
The study involved 96 men and 88 women, all of whom the researchers in Italy observed between May and September last year.
The subjects, unaware that they were being observed for such purposes, were known people (family members, friends, acquaintances and colleagues) and unknown to the researchers.
They were observed in their natural social environment during their daily activities, such as at work, restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, waiting rooms, social parties, social meals, public parks and family settings.
Researchers subjected the participants to two different conditions.
In the ‘experimental’ state, the researcher used his or her smartphone by fidgeting and swiping the screen while looking at the screen for at least five seconds.
In the control condition, the researcher used his or her smartphone by fidgeting and swiping the screen – but without looking at the screen.
This small but crucial difference between the circumstances allowed the researchers to understand whether appearing as if drawing the attention of a smartphone elicits mimicry.
Smartphone copying is due to the chameleon effect, but it may not have the same social benefits as other mimicry behaviors (stock image)
How to tell if someone is lying to you: see if they are impersonating your actions
One of the best ways to find out if someone is lying to you is to see if they are mimicking your actions, a 2021 study suggests.
Dutch researchers at Erasmus University Rotterdam used motion capture to track liars’ behavior as they told ever-greater lies to someone else.
We can unconsciously imitate the behavior of others, and we are more likely to automatically mimic them when the brain is hard at work, the researchers explained.
Since it’s more difficult for the brain to be dishonest than it is to tell the truth, we tend to impersonate our victims when we are deceitful, they added.
Read more: Liars mimic their interviewers’ actions when they turn a lie
In the experimental condition, 50 percent of the participants looked at their phone within 30 seconds of the trigger, while in the control condition, only 0.5 percent did.
‘It watches the phone that sets the mimic in motion,’ explained study author Elisabetta Palagi of the University of Pisa New scientist.
Palagi was recently involved in another recent study that found that lions in packs can yawn each other, just like humans.
“Most people get infected by other people’s behavior on their cell phone, without even realizing it,” she said.
Veronica Maglieri, also one of the study’s authors, found evidence that the action was completely beyond their conscious control.
“A woman sitting across from me in a waiting room saw me looking at my phone, and within seconds she picked up her phone and called someone and said,“ Hey, I just felt like calling you; I don’t know why, ”Maglieri said to New Scientist.
Gender quality, age, and the researcher-observer relationship had no effect on the mimic response of the smartphone.
This is despite previous studies cited by the researchers, which indicated that young people, and especially women, are heavy smartphone users during social interactions.
Interestingly, mimicry tended to diminish during social meals, suggesting that when we have something more important to do like food, the urge to reach for our phone is less powerful.
“Because of the role of food as an aid in increasing social kinship, it is possible for people to adopt other forms of facial expression during communal eating with facial expressions and postures rather than using objects,” says the team.
One of the limitations of the study was that it was conducted during the pandemic, which likely disrupted normal conditions.
“It is difficult to say whether the impersonation response we recorded using smartphones was affected by the lockdown imposed by the Italian government,” add the researchers.
“We don’t know if our findings are related to the previous period of forced social isolation, when people relied almost entirely on their devices to stay in touch with others and maintain their social connection.”
The study is published in the Journal of Ethology.
Yawning is also contagious to lions! Animals in South Africa have been found to mimic behavior to promote group cohesion
Lions, like humans, can induce each other’s yawn. But while the supposed “ contagious yawning ” in humans is a sign of empathy, experts say it is a way for lions to synchronize behavior and be a more cohesive pride.
Some animals, including humans, will yawn after someone else nearby yawns, and a new study suggests this “ contagious yawning ” promotes group cohesion.
Researchers observing lions in South Africa found that the animals not only mimicked each other’s yawns, but would copy subsequent behaviors.
If a lion yawned, then got up and moved somewhere else, another cat would almost certainly do the same.
Scientists believe such synchronized behavior allows the pride to work as a team, find food, and spot threats to the group.
Animals yawn for a variety of reasons, say researchers at the University of Pisa – sometimes it’s a transitional state from awake to sleeping, sometimes it’s a response to ‘high social tension’.
Read more: Lions yawn to bond with their pride, research shows