New research provides evidence that reducing shyness by focusing on oneself in novel social interactions is associated with behavioral imitation. Cypost Excerpted from Research in Personality.
“Behavioral imitation – automatically copying the actions of others – is thought to be adaptive because it signals social interest, increases mutual admiration, and facilitates smooth social interactions,” said researcher Professor Christy Ball, professor of psychology at the University of Waterloo.
New social interactions
“As shy individuals are more likely to feel anger in new social interactions, the team of researchers wanted to examine whether shy individuals are less likely to engage in this adaptive social behavior and the mechanisms that explain this relationship,” Professor Ball added.
150 undergraduate students participated in a recorded Zoom session with a researcher, who asked a series of five standardized questions and performed a pre-planned behavior while asking each question. To disguise the true purpose of the study, participants were told that it aimed to investigate how personality traits relate to perceptions of online platforms.
I feel ashamed
Participants completed a self-focused attention assessment, reporting their agreement and disagreement with statements such as “I was focusing on my own internal reactions” and “I was focusing on the impression I was making on the other person”.
After systematically encoding the Zoom sessions, the researchers found that 42% of the participants imitated the researcher at least once. Participants with higher levels of shyness tended to report higher levels of self-focus during the session and were less likely to exhibit behavioral imitation.
Professor Paul said Cypost “The study found that more shy college students were less likely to imitate the experimenter’s behavior during online social interactions, which could be explained by higher levels of self-attention during the interaction,” she said.
Prof. Ball explained that interpreting this result suggests that “shy individuals may focus on novel social interactions (for example, focusing on their rapid heart rate), which may interfere with the attention they should be paying to the social partner and play a role. Ultimately, this plays a role in reducing the likelihood that they will engage in behavioral simulation.”
“The study examined the relationship between shyness, self-focus, and behavioral imitation in unfamiliar social interactions. An interesting future direction would be to examine whether a similar pattern would result in the context of interactions with familiar others, such as friends or family members. Likely not to increase, meaning behavioral imitation may not be affected in this context.
“The Chameleon Effect”
Professor Ball added that “behavioral imitation was measured in an active social context where the participant was expected and asked to respond to the researcher’s questions”, adding that the team of researchers hypothesized that “the individual could play in more passive social contexts”. An observational role, in which shyness is associated with more behavioral imitation as a way to blend in with the social environment and avoid being noticed, has been referred to by some previous researchers as the “chameleon effect” of the mixed function of imitating behavior.
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