Endlessly applying to jobs, landing an interview, and finally getting the job seems like an impossible feat. We are often told we have to look and act the part to convince ourselves and others that we are the part. On a one-on-one basis including job interviews, we unconsciously engage in a mirroring behavior to show comfort, trust and rapport, but according to a recent study published in the journal of Experimental Social Psychology, this can backfire in negative nonverbal communication.

Mirroring has an unconscious influence. It can be used as a form of perspective or empathy. Our bodies reveal a lot about the way we are thinking and feeling, which is known as “embodied cognition,” according to Psychology Today. Therefore, when we adopt another person’s postures and body language, we are able to better understand what another person is experiencing from their perspective. A person’s mirroring shows the eagerness of wanting to understand someone and establish a real connection.

In an effort to delve into this behavior and its effect on social interactions, K. Rachelle Smith-Genthos, a psychologist at Texas Tech University and her colleagues led about 50 undergraduates through a mock job interview. To observe the normal tone of their voices, the researched asked the participants to give a short speech about themselves and their qualifications for the fake job they were fake-applying for. Students were paired up with an interviewer who spoke to them in an negative tone (cold, uninterested, and bored), while others were matched with an interviewer that spoke in a neutral tone.

The findings revealed the students who were given the negative interviewer began to match that person’s tone as their voices became colder, uninterested, and less enthusiastic in comparison to their short speech. Furthermore, a separate group who didn’t know the premise of the study, listened to the recordings of the interviews, and rated the negative-tone students lower than those with a neutral-tone. The students in the negative-tone condition were seen as uninterested in the job. The interviewers’ lack of interest in the interviewee was transmitted onto the interviewee who then reflected the projected image.

Contrary to previous research on mirroring behaviors, the chameleon effect did not reap a positive outcome in this study. There has been a great emphasis placed on the positive behaviors and outcomes of mimicry behavior, but the researchers have touched upon the circumstances and potential consequences of negative mimicry.

“The current study demonstrates that people will mimic negative behaviors during social interactions, even when that mimicry causes negative outcomes,” the researchers wrote in the study. “At the very least, it is now clear that there is a darker side to behavioral mimicry.”

A similar 2011 study published in the journal Psychological Science found mirroring can have its downsides, especially when people go too far to mimic others’ behaviors. This tends to happen when a job or potential romance is on the line. When participants viewed a video with two people pretending to partake in a job interview, they saw the person interviewed was adapting the same body language as the condescending interviewer. However, when the video cropped the person being interviewed out of the frame, only hearing the audio, they found mimicking the condescending interviewer didn’t negatively affect participants’ ratings of that person. The findings show mirroring is used as a social tool for better or for worse.

Perhaps monkey see monkey do, isn’t always best – at least when it comes to job interviews.

Sources: Casa de Calvo, Lakin JL, Reich DA, Smith-Genthos KR. The tongue-tied chameleon: The role of nonconscious mimicry in the behavioral confirmation process. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 2015.