“Chameleon effect”… Why do couples look alike after a while?!

It starts with meeting a person with whom you get along a lot, spend a lot of time together, and they become one of your close friends. You notice or comment around you that you have started to repeat some of the words that he repeats in his speech, and that you sometimes copy his smile, and maybe even the way he speaks. Did you notice at the beginning of your acquaintance how he repeats the word “total” so much, and today you notice that you use it in your speech as well?

You are not alone here, because similarities always appear between friends or spouses, so there is a folk proverb that travels around the world in different forms that after a while husband and wife become similar, even in terms of formal characteristics. , but this is not true, because your face will not adapt anatomically over time, but there is something else important that gives that impression.

This is where the tradition began

Mimicry and imitation were the way we learned movement and speech from childhood. We have always had to observe the actions and expressions of others to know what is socially acceptable behavior. It was the way the human race survived and evolved. Observing and imitating stronger and more intelligent individuals in society and those of higher social status. (1)

Thus, tradition has contributed to the development of human societies and helping people to connect with each other, and we have this need to follow – in a way – the standards imposed on us by the people around us, to automatically align our actions with their actions, that is the beginning of our learning everything ; Walking, talking, language, music, but what about those little verbs and words that inadvertently enter our vocabulary? (2)


About two decades ago, sociologist John A. Bargh, along with social psychologist Tanya Chartrand, published a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology on what is known as the “chameleon effect,” or the unconscious tendency to imitate the behavior of others. , in a way that unintentionally changes the behavior of the individual to match the behavior of those who surround him in the social environment.

Two researchers conducted three experiments to track the mechanism of action of the chameleon effect. In the first experiment, the participants described their impression of some images, while the researcher deliberately made some movements to monitor its effect on the participants of the experiment, so sometimes he smiled, shook his legs or rubbed his face, and most of them were. Participants tend to imitate this unconsciously, and do not even notice when asked about it.

In another experiment, scientists wanted to determine the effect of imitating others on us. The participants were divided into two groups, each of which included several actors. Actors from the first group imitated the movements and gestures of the participants, and actors from the second group adhered to neutral behavior. It was found that the participants who were imitated by the actors were more inclined to say that the interaction was smoother, and had friendly feelings towards the interlocutors, in contrast to the other group where the actors were neutral. The fact that this reveals to us is that we can involuntarily gravitate towards those who look like us or imitate us.

However, the most important question remains: Why do we tend to imitate certain people and not others? In a third experiment, the team predetermined the level of liking between individuals, to show that increasing the level of liking increases the likelihood that they will imitate their partner’s behaviors. Researchers also indicate that the mere awareness of another person’s behavior automatically increases the likelihood that an individual will engage in such behavior, so this effect appears when we coexist and interact with a group of individuals long enough.

What is positive about the chameleon effect

1688058088 (Shutterstock)

The “chameleon effect” has a positive effect on human social interactions, helping us connect with those we love even without our awareness. Social psychology” includes the “chameleon effect” gestures, facial expressions, hand movements, shaking feet, yawning, patterns speech and some behavior. (3)

And the “chameleon effect” appears in many aspects of our behavior, as one session turns as soon as someone looks at their phone, and almost half of those sitting around them start touching their phones. In a study published by the “Journal of Ethology” in 2021, researchers followed about two hundred men and women in different situations in parks, restaurants, public transport, waiting rooms and dinners, and studied to what extent they were affected by the presence of an individual looking at their phone, so researchers found that about 50% of people look at their phone within 30 seconds of someone picking up the phone.

The simulation of behavior – as explained by the researchers – was fast, automatic and subconscious, and the response was close in the different groups on which the experiment was conducted. This is just the “chameleon effect”. (4)

Research reveals, therefore, that imitation is part of our desire to increase affiliation and communication with others, but there is another explanation that is no less important, which is that when we cling to certain people for a long time, we begin to be involuntarily affected by their actions and words, so that their expressions come to mind and we find them closest by searching. We repeat words that we have always heard from them for a similar meaning, and generally this mirroring of other people’s actions means that the interlocutors enjoy communication, and that there is a certain level of agreement between them. (5)

Are the faces similar?


Expressions and words make us similar more than we expect, there is even a conversation about the similarity of the characteristics of couples sometimes after a long marriage, which has been piqued the interest of psychologists for years. In 1987, the journal “Motivation and Emotion” published a study that examined whether couples were physically similar in facial features after a long marriage, comparing photos of a group of couples at the beginning of their marriage and after 25 years. he later discovered The results showed that there was indeed an increase in similarity that appeared after years of cohabitation. Moreover, an increase in similarity between spouses is associated with an increase in the rate of marital happiness, according to the assurances of these couples.

However, some explanations for this phenomenon mentioned in the study is the theory of emotional influence, which states that similar emotional expressions and repeated use of facial muscles in the same form can always affect traits, even when two people live together for a long time, as given their exposure to the same experiences and sharing most of them, their facial features are relatively similar, only with prolonged social contact. The study partially attributes this similarity to the fact that couples coexist for a long time, and that they often follow the same diet and share the same habits, lifestyle and everything that happens.(6)


However, these results were not without doubt. Decades later, researchers from Stanford University in the United States used technology to investigate this matter, they collected about five hundred pictures of couples at the beginning of their marriage, in their twenties, and then they collected pictures in their sixties to analyze how similar they were. The researchers showed a picture of the person, and in turn a picture of the husband with several pictures. In another, volunteers were asked to identify the faces most similar to that person, and the experiment was later conducted using the latest facial recognition software.

The results were different, as a study published by Scientific Reports in 2020 showed that there is no scientific evidence that couples are similar over time, there are many that are already similar, but one of the justifications for this is that these individuals chose more from the beginning People are similar to them (7), and perhaps it is precisely the similarity of facial expressions, gestures and some reactions that points to the existence of this similarity.

biological basis


Some research points to a biological reason why we tend to imitate those around us. We have a type of neuron called a “mirror neuron” that responds equally when we do something and when we see others doing the same action, and these neurons account for our sense of empathy for others, which prompts us to imitate them, and also allows us to learn by imitation. With it, just by observing others, we discover languages, musical instruments, skills and other movements, and our level of empathy towards others deepens, and it is precisely this empathy that subconsciously encourages us to imitate those around us.(8)

Linguists have another explanation for what happens, called “linguistic convergence,” which is what happens when you watch a show that speaks a dialect that’s not yours, and you find that you tend to imitate it and introduce some of its words into your speech during time. It is true that we usually tend to speak in the dialect that we have been living with for a while, so we use some words or sentence structures or imitate the way of pronunciation, which also happens when you talk to a child and try to imitate his way of speaking.

We are influenced by those we talk to so that we often use the terms they use again and again, we try less to look for the right word, we just heard it, and the use of the same terms plays a role in good communication with our interlocutors. (9) It seems natural, therefore, that you subconsciously change to become more like one of your close friends or family members. Here there is no need to worry about distinguishing your personality, you are still prominent, and your imitation of some gestures and expressions of others does not even erase the features that make you unique, it is just a reflection of social empathy towards your environment.



  1. The surprising truth about why we tend to imitate others
  2. Looking at your phone quickly prompts other people to do the same
  3. The chameleon effect: Perception-behavior connections and social interaction.
  4. Moving from live to virtual social interactions: Looking at smartphones, but not handling them, elicits a spontaneous facial response in observers
  5. Why do we copy the people around us without even realizing it?
  6. Convergence in the physical appearance of spouses
  7. The faces of the spouses are similar, but they do not become more similar over time
  8. Why do we copy the people around us without even realizing it?
  9. Which makes us subconsciously imitate the accents of others in conversation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *