The NY Times ran an interesting article on mimicry and social rapport. The author describes the emerging view among researchers that "social bonding between strangers is highly dependent on mimicry, a synchronized and usually unconscious give and take of words and gestures that creates a current of good will between two people."
This is a fascinating subject and the Times piece represents only the tip of the iceberg. Researchers since Daniel Stern, who conducted micro-analyses of mother-infant interactions, have been studying interactional "dances" to glean insights into mutual interpersonal regulation and mind-to-mind influences.
Neuroscientist Vittorio Gallese believes that mirror neurons play an active role in these apparent influences. Gallese uses the term "embodied simulation" to refer to a prereflective, unconscious mechanism that generates representational (psychic) content. Essentially when we observe others, our brains map what we observe as if we are the subjects that we are observing. In so doing, we automatically generate psychic content that represents the internal experience of whomever we are observing. Gallese argues that embodied simulation is central to our ways of knowing the world and, more specifically, other minds in the world.
Although, recently, there has been a backlash against the overselling of mirror neurons, it is clear that researchers who are studying the role of interactional synchronization are onto something very powerful. Gallese wrote an interesting paper linking this research with a number of psychoanalytic and clinical constructs including unconscious communication, projective identification, empathy, autism, and "transference-countertransference interactions." Read more here...