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Does copying your partner's language make them like you?

A quick internet search for flirt tips teaches us that aligning your behavior with the behavior of the person you like (i.e. whenever they cross their arms, you cross your arms; whenever they touch their head, you touch your head) increases the chance that this person will like you back. A similar idea has also been proposed in language research: a speaker's (desired) relationship with their conversation partner would influence how much they align their linguistic choices with this partner. In a new study published in PLoS ONE, we tested this hypothesis.
Does copying your partner's language make them like you?

More specifically, we tested whether alignment of sentence structures (syntactic alignment) automatically increases when participants have the goal to be liked by their partner. At the same time, we also tested whether syntactic alignment actually leads to increased perceived likeability, as reported by the speaker's conversation partner. Contrary to our expectations, we did not find any evidence to support the idea that the more speakers want to be liked by their conversation partner, the more they (unconsciously) align their syntactic choices with their partner's syntactic choices. Even more, in two out of the three groups of participants, we found evidence that speakers who aligned more with their partner were evaluated as less likeable by their partner. In other words, our results are not in line with the flirting tips on the internet:  we did not find evidence that copying another person's language behavior (their sentence structures) increases the chance that they will like you! 

 

The full report of this study can be read here:

Schoot, L. Heyselaar, E. Hagoort, P. & Segaert, K. (2016). Does syntactic alignment effectively influence how speakers are perceived by their conversation partner? PLOS ONE.

 

Neurobiology of Language

What is the neurobiological infrastructure for the uniquely human capacity for language? The focus of the Neurobiology of Language Department is on the study of language production, language comprehension, and language acquisition from a cognitive neuroscience perspective. Read more...

Director: Peter Hagoort

Secretary: Carolin Lorenz

 

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