Picture of flowers in front of a mirror, with the flash from the camera reflecting back through the stems

Mirror, Mirror


I’ve long been intrigued, and a little dismayed, at the distress my refusal of food creates for other people. They mean very, very well when they encourage me to “have one,” or ask me “why are you eating that instead of this food?” and I feel sad about disappointing them. (Did you see this post?)

Materials I’ve read over the years on interpersonal communications tell me that people in conversation tend to mirror each others’ actions, especially when the conversation is peaceful and the parties are in agreement.

Sure enough, when I’m chatting happily at the dinner table with someone, whether an old friend or a new acquaintance, very often we both have our elbows on the table at the same time, we both lean backwards in our chair at nearly the same time, and, when one of us leans forward, the other responds with some kind of gesture as well.

On the other hand, when I’m in disagreement with someone, we no longer match each other at all.

You can see this body language when you watch other people, say, at the food court, too. Just sit and watch for a few minutes. Who’s on the same page? Who’s ill at ease or in disagreement? You can’t hear them, but you can see them. Fascinating!

I wonder if this non-verbal communication custom of matching body language extends to matching food behaviour? Is there a similar connection between the message of harmony that comes from mirroring body language and that of mirroring food intake in social situations? Could it be that by not eating one of the Tim Horton’s (yummy! at least in my last-tasted-in-2001 memory of them…) doughnuts being passed around the room I’m breaking the non-verbal peace-code of mirroring what the other people are doing, therefore creating a division them and me?

I’m definitely going to have to reflect this some more. (What an interesting research project that could be!)

What do you think?


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