Mirroring (psychology)

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Mirroring is the behaviour in which one person copies another person usually while in social interaction with them. It may include miming gestures, movements, body language, muscle tensions, expressions, tones, eye movements, breathing, tempo, accent, attitude, choice of words or metaphors, and other aspects of communication. It is often observed among couples or close friends.

Mirroring is the subconscious replication of another person's nonverbal signals.[1] This concept takes place in everyday interactions, and often goes unnoticed by both the person enacting the mirroring behaviors as well as the individual who is being mirrored. The activation of mirror neurons takes place within the individual who begins to mirror another's movements, and allows them a greater connection and understanding with the individual who they are mirroring, as well as allowing the individual who is being mirrored to feel a stronger connection with the other individual. Mirroring is distinct from imitation in under the premise that while imitation is a conscious and overt effort to copy another person, mirroring is often covert and goes unnoticed within the situation.

The display of mirroring often begins as early as infancy, as babies begin to mimic individuals around them and establish connections with particular body movements.[2] The ability to mimic another person's actions allows the infant to establish a sense of empathy and thus begin to understand another person's emotions. The infant continues to establish connections with other individual's emotions and subsequently mirror their movements.

Mirroring can establish rapport with the individual who is being mirrored, as the similarities in nonverbal gestures allow the individual to feel more connected with the person exhibiting the mirrored behavior.[3] As the two individuals in the situation display similar nonverbal gestures, they may believe that they share similar attitudes and ideas as well. Mirror neurons react to and cause these movements, allowing the individuals to feel a greater sense of engagement and belonging within the situation.



Mirroring is common in conversation. The listeners will typically smile or frown along with the speaker. If one person throws in sports metaphors, the other will likely parry along similar ideas. Since people usually accept their mirror image with ease, mirroring the person with whom one is speaking generally makes them feel more relaxed and encourages them to open up. Mirroring generally takes place subconsciously as individuals react with the situation.[1]

Within the area of self psychology, being mirrored refers "to all the transactions characterizing the mother–child relationship, including not only the reflections of grandiosity, but also constancy, nurturance, a general empathy and respect" (Kohut, 1977, pp. 146–147).[4] The parents' mirroring responses influence the development and maintenance of self-esteem and self-assertive ambitions. Their response will mirror back to the child a sense of worth, which in turn creates an internal self-respect.[4]

Individuals with intellectual disability or autism often engage in echolalia in which speech or gestures made by others are mirrored.[5]

It also takes place with people with certain degrees of difficulty comprehending complex emotions, or d.c.c.e. certain types of people with d.c.c.e. lack the emotional range of a normal person, though they can learn to mimic, or mirror the emotions, or attitude shown at them, and then reflect said emotions, or attitude right back at the original person, while still never actually feeling the actual emotion.


Direct mirroring occurs when a person is face to face with another. It is used by lovers, people with high familiarity or interest in one another such as opponents in a contest.

Postural mirror-image mirroring occurs where one person's left side "matches" the other person's right side shows strong rapport and typically affinity (sociology) or empathy and increasing your own synchronicity with someone can also smooth conversation.

Incongruency can be mirrored for rapport. If someone says "Great" but looks or sounds downtrodden, a mirroring reply would be to incongruently say "Good" with a similar down attitude like them.

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  1. ^ a b Chartrand, Tanya; Bargh, John. "The Chameleon Effect: The Perception-Behavior Link and Social Interaction". yale.edu. New York University. Retrieved 2014-09-28. 
  2. ^ Pineda, Jaime (2007). Mirror neuron systems: The role of mirroring processes in social cognition. Atlanta, GA: Emory University. pp. 191–212. 
  3. ^ Iacoboni, Marco (2008). Mirroring people: The new science of how we connect with others. New York, NY: Picador. 
  4. ^ a b Romano, D. M. (2004). "A self-psychology approach to narcissistic personality disorder: A nursing reflection". Perspectives in psychiatric care 40 (1): 20–28. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6163.2004.00020.x. PMID 15147049. 
  5. ^ Fay, W. H.; Coleman, R. O. (1977). "A human sound transducer/reproducer: Temporal capabilities of a profoundly echolalic child". Brain and language 4 (3): 396–402. doi:10.1016/0093-934X(77)90034-7. PMID 907878. 

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