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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 31-Aug-12


Friday 31-August-12

Connecting hearts

When you get on with other people, is it common for you both to unconsciously adopt the same body language, sending the signal 'I am like you' and consequently 'I like and trust you'. We also reflect other people in all kinds of other ways, from repeating their words to showing how we have similar values. In this way we bond with others, creating a kind of merged identity.

Much of this is unconscious, although the canny persuader will be aware of this and deliberately reflect aspects of the other person in order to create trust and build the relationship. The morality of this is of course questionable, but if the person acts with good intention, then this may be better than more heavy-handed persuasive approaches.

In an experiment by researcher David Cwir and colleagues, subjects were paired with stooges who faked having similar interests in order to build a sense of social connection. Later, the stooge gave a presentation in which they pretended to be very stressed. The subject watching them was given a questionnaire about 'personality' in which were embedded questions about their own emotional state. Unsurprisingly, those who had been 'treated' with the 'I am like you' approach reported feeling more stressed, showing that even a simple reflective action elicits empathy in others.

In a second study, the stooge had to run on the spot for three minutes. The subjects were tested and found to have elevated heart rate and blood pressure. As the researchers commented, 'Even minimally instantiated social relationships can lead people to experience common psychological and physiological states'.

A simple social connection is enough to makes hearts beat together, it seems.

Cwir, D., Carr, P., Walton, G., and Spencer, S. (2011). Your heart makes my heart move: Cues of social connectedness cause shared emotions and physiological states among strangers, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 661-664.

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