Subject: Chameleon Effect – Negotiation Study
Event: Culture Club’s song “Karma Chameleon” hits number 1, 1984
On February 3, 1984, the song “Karma Chameleon” by the British band Culture Club hit number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Long before the song became popular, the chameleon had been a metaphor for a person who changes their appearance or behavior according to the situation, and as psychological research has shown, this chameleon effect can be a powerful persuader.
In a 1999 study conducted by Tanya Chartrand and John Bargh, they sat with college students to discuss a set of photographs. For half of the 72 students, the experimenters mimicked the posture and behavior of the students, mirroring their movements and mannerisms. If, for example, a student folded her arms, the experimenter would fold his arms. The results of the study showed that the students who had been mirrored rated their experimenter as more likable. In addition, as contrasted with the students who were not mirrored, the mirrored students reported that their interaction with the experiment was smoother.
In another study, experimenters instructed MBA students to mirror the behavior of their partners in one-on-one negotiation sessions. Those students who mirrored the other person reached a deal 67% of the time, while those who did not mirror, reached a deal only 12% of the time.
The explanation behind the success of the chameleon effect is explained by our natural bias for people who are similar to us. In short, we are more likely to like a person who is like us. Whether or not we are consciously aware of it, this liking bias makes it easier to trust and to build rapport with someone who looks, acts, or shares the same beliefs or preferences as us. Think, for example, how many of your friendships have been formed based on the similarities you share with another person. It doesn’t make much sense that we should be attracted more to a person who has the same birthday as us; nevertheless, can you honestly say that you wouldn’t be attracted to this person? (1).
Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason: What is the chameleon effect, and what insight does it provide about human nature?
Challenge – Philosophy Meets Zoology: Philosophers have long looked to the animal kingdom for literal or figurative comparisons that help us understand the human condition. For example, in Book II of The Republic, Plato asks us to consider the dog:
Who then can be a guardian? The image of the dog suggests an answer. For dogs are gentle to friends and fierce to strangers. Your dog is a philosopher who judges by the rule of knowing or not knowing; and philosophy, whether in man or beast, is the parent of gentleness. The human watch dogs must be philosophers or lovers of learning which will make them gentle.
What specific animal do you think has lessons for humans? What part of the animal’s nature or behavior can we observe and learn from?
1-Goldstein, Noah J., Steve J. Martin, and Robert B. Cialdini. Yes: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive. New York: Free Press, 2008.