Money plays a predominant role in American culture, and a new study tries to better understand how it affects our behavior, feelings and emotions.
Drs. Jia Liu, Kathleen Vohs and Dirk Smeesters decided to investigate the relationship between money and mimicry (the copying or imitating of other people).
“The idea of money can activate two motives: autonomous goal striving (being independent and autonomous) and interpersonal insensitivity (indifferent to others). We were interested in which of them dominates when the idea of money is activated,” said Liu.
Behavioral mimicry involves taking on the postures, mannerisms, gestures, and motor movements of other people without conscious awareness: Just imagine meeting with Donald Trump and all of a sudden acting like him — though that weird hair would be hard to duplicate.
Another term for it is non-conscious imitation. It is intimately tied to relationships, liking, and empathy, functioning both as a signal of rapport and as a tool to generate rapport.
According to Liu and her colleagues, previous research in the area of mimicry discovered that if a person is mimicked by someone, they end up liking the other person more than when they are not mimicked.
However, Liu and her colleagues were not entirely convinced about the positive effects of mimicry and theorized that mimicry might actually turn people off, especially if the behavior threatens a person and especially if they are reminded about something such as money.
To test their theory, 72 students were asked to complete several unrelated tasks. First, they did a filler task on the computer in which the screen’s background depicted either pictures of money or shells.
Then, in another task, each participant interacted with a colleague and discussed a product. During the conversation, the colleague either unobtrusively mimicked participants’ nonverbal behaviors (i.e., matching their postures and gestures after approximately 2 seconds) or did not mimic at all.
Finally, participants’ feelings of threat were measured and they were asked how much they liked the colleague they had interacted with.
Researchers determined money-reminded people took the mimicry the wrong way and responded negatively. Liu believes this finding could have important implications for social bonding and forming interpersonal relationships, as affiliation attempts by others can backfire.
In other words, people tend to feel threatened and end up disliking those who are trying to bond with them when reminded about money.