Friends of fortune, creatures of habit


Nicole Schroeder

[heading size=”14″]Shared mannerisms flourish among friends[/heading] Seniors Sara Wohler and Hanna Abdulkhaleq’s friendship might still be no more than a few months old, but at times it can certainly be hard to tell. Between their laughs, their smiles and their friend groups, the two are uncannily similar.
Yet some of the similarities the two girls share are more recent than others. For Wohler, it was only after spending time with Abdulkhaleq and getting to know her that she began to pick up some of her friend’s mannerisms, like the use of certain words or phrases.
“Sometimes I say things similar to her, maybe [in a certain] way,” Wohler said. “Maybe it’s not [always] that obvious, but I [still] just pick it up.”
Picking up various mannerisms from others is, in fact, more common than some may think. According to a 2014 study by the University of California, San Diego, and Yale University, friends are already similar to one another genetically, sharing an average of one percent of each other’s genes — or approximately 15,000 gene variation markers.
However, Dr. Emma Seppälä, Science Director at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, said people also naturally pick up mannerisms from one another in order to better relate to and understand them.
“It’s called empathy. In psychological parlance, empathy is basically our ability to mirror another person, picking up on the tiniest cues — a twitch of an eyebrow, a tilt of the head, posture — to read another person’s emotions or internal states,” Seppälä said. “We are built to mirror each other, which helps us understand each other.”
Over time, Seppälä said this shared empathy and the time one person spends around other people can lead to him or her eventually sharing certain habits or characteristics with their friends in the form of mannerisms.
“If over long periods of time you’ve been mirroring another person, it’s normal to adopt their mannerisms after a while, since you’re doing it all the time,” Seppälä said. “If you’re looking at me day after day and I tend to nod my head when you talk or open my eyes wide when I say something I’m excited about, then you internally are doing the same thing — your micro-muscles are activating and mirroring my gestures. So it’s only natural that you start to act in similar ways.”
While such an exchange of mannerisms most easily occurs between friends or other groups of people who spend time together, one doesn’t necessarily have to be friends with someone to pick up his or her habits.
Wohler said since she is an exchange student, she has found herself picking up many different mannerisms from classmates and others in the community, especially if they relate to speaking or writing in a certain way.
“Especially because I’m an exchange student, it is in my nature to try and adopt everything to try and fit in. What is really special is when I’m with other exchange students from all over the world, I can see myself speak a little bit with their accent … just because I hear it so many times and it’s in my brain,” Wohler said. “Also, I [noticed] some years ago my writing — when I had a friend [who] I thought their writing was wonderful, I saw myself sometimes starting to write totally different.”
Even if she isn’t an exchange student like Wohler, Abdulkhaleq said she still frequently finds herself picking up mannerisms from her friends and classmates simply by hearing certain words spoken repeatedly or by watching them behave in a certain way. She said she believes adopting these mannerisms from others shows something about the relationship she’s built with them, as it is easily reflected in the amount of time she’s spent with them in order to truly pick up their more prominent characteristics.
“I think it shows you have a stronger relationship with that person, which means you communicate more with them than you would other individuals,” Abdulkhaleq said. “I guess … your environment influences the way you act and develop as an individual, so hearing or seeing certain actions often can make you subconsciously do the same things.”
Seppälä agrees with Abdulkhaleq, and said that the exchange of mannerisms or characteristics isn’t something people should find strange or off-putting. More than anything, she said, adopting mannerisms from someone else can actually help to strengthen a person’s relationship with them, similar to shared interests or hobbies between the two.
“Research shows that, when we are trying to connect with someone, we are more likely to adopt their posture — cross-legged with our head leaning in our hand — or to adopt a complementary posture — if they are sitting in a domineering way, we might sit in a more subservient way,” Seppälä said. “This actually builds more communion and likability between the partners. The closer you are, the more you tend to mirror and then, over time, even adopt each other’s mannerisms and even facial traits as a consequence.”
Have you ever noticed yourself picking up someone else’s mannerisms? Leave a comment below.