Essay on Love and Nonverbal Behaviors

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J Nonverbal Behav (2014) 38:195–208
DOI 10.1007/s10919-014-0174-4

Nonverbal Reactions to an Attractive Stranger: The Role of Mimicry in Communicating Preferred Social Distance
Sally D. Farley

Published online: 12 January 2014
Ó Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Abstract The present study was conducted to determine the extent to which different nonverbal behaviors were associated with romantic interest in a highly attractive confederate and whether these behaviors differed as a function of relationship status and selfreported love for one’s partner. Mimicry was positively associated with romantic interest in the confederate, and consistent with the devaluation hypothesis, mimicry was negatively associated with self-reported love for one’s partner, suggesting that mimicry functions to signal preferred social distance. In addition, smiling and vocal pleasantness emerged as important affiliative nonverbal behaviors. The present results suggest that mimicry acts as a relationship-maintenance mechanism, one that is expressed automatically, unintentionally, and nonconsciously. Implications for the role of nonconscious mimicry in romantic attraction and relationship-maintenance processes are discussed.
Keywords Mimicry Á Relationship-maintenance Á Nonverbal Á Love Á
Romantic interest
Early stage romantic love is dizzyingly intoxicating. Young lovers have an insatiable desire for affection from their partners, experience intrusive thoughts about their loved ones, and express great distress at the prospect of losing them (Fisher 1998; Hatfield and
Rapson 1993). According to biological anthropologist Helen Fisher (1998), romantic love is a fundamental drive, motivating us to focus intense energy on a single person; science supports George Bernard Shaw’s notion that ‘‘love is a gross exaggeration of the difference between one person and everybody else’’ (as cited in Murray et al. 1996, p. 88). Although the flame of romantic love burns less brightly over time, as its physiological intensity diminishes, passion, commitment, and intimacy remain central components of love
(Johnson and Rusbult 1989; Sternberg 1986).
S. D. Farley (&)
Division of Applied Behavioral Sciences, University of Baltimore, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA e-mail:



J Nonverbal Behav (2014) 38:195–208

According to evolutionary theory, romantic love may have evolved as a psychological mechanism in order to promote long-term pair-bonding and relational commitment (Maner et al. 2008). Commitment has been implicated as an especially important predictor of relationship-maintenance behaviors (Johnson and Rusbult 1989). Highly committed individuals experience a positivity bias in their romantic relationships, perceiving more positive attributes and fewer negative attributes in their own relationships as compared to others’ (Agnew et al. 1998). In addition, an inflated evaluation of one’s partner’s qualities is associated with relationship happiness (Murray et al. 1996), and longitudinal research indicates that this effect is long-lasting (Murray et al. 2011). Newly married couples with a high positivity bias experienced no significant decrease in marital satisfaction over three years, in comparison to low idealization couples, who experienced a dramatic decrease in relationship satisfaction over time (Murray et al. 2011).
Relationship Maintenance Processes
Relationship enhancement and protection biases are more pronounced when individuals are confronted with attractive alternatives to their relationship partners. In their seminal article,
Johnson and Rusbult (1989) proffered evidence for what has been termed the devaluation or derogation hypothesis, the tendency for highly committed individuals to devalue attractive alternatives in an effort to protect their romantic relationships from threat. In support of the devaluation hypothesis, Miller (1997) found that