Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Thesis defense Johanna van Schaik (Donders series 281)

7 July 2017

Promotors: prof. dr. H. Bekkering, prof. dr. I. Toni
Copromotor: dr. S. Hunnius

Little Chameleons: An Investigation into the Development and Mechanisms of Behavioral Mimicry

During our daily social interactions, we tend to inadvertently copy the otherwise-meaningless behaviors of our interaction partners, such as rubbing one’s face. This mimicry, though unnoticed by those involved, implicitly communicates liking and therefore occurs more during interactions with liked than disliked individuals. This thesis investigated the early development and mechanisms contributing to mimicry using both behavioral and neurocognitive experiments. It was found that young children mimic by the age of three, but only start being selective in mimicking liked individuals more than disliked between the ages of four and six. Children’s developing inhibitory control and their understanding of social interactions likely contribute to the emergence of socially-sensitive mimicry. On a neurocognitive level, the extent to which an interaction partner’s behaviors are processed is similarly sensitive to the social context of the situation. Taken together, this thesis sheds the first light on the when and how of the development of this important social behavior.