Friday, March 07, 2008

Relating to Patients by Mimicry?

Perhaps imitating one's patients sounds outlandish, but according to new psychological research as described in the NYTimes' article "You Remind Me of Me," such mimicry plays a key role in establishing rapport in everyday social interactions. The article describes how salespeople use mimicry to subconsciously build trust with their clients. I suppose one can view this as nefarious, but it makes sense that to gain trust, the salespeople would want to behave like their clients in order to understand their clients' perspectives.

In some sense, doctors are salespeople too. However, we are not selling a product, but rather the idea that we can treat a patient effectively. Trust is an even more valued item between patients and doctors as compared to salespeople and clients. Under this assumption, it would be interesting to see if patients regarded doctors who mimicked them in the subtle ways described in the article to be 'better' physicians, or more empathetic ones. Of course, there are limits to the imitation:
Social mimicry can and does go wrong. At its malicious extreme, it curdles into mockery, which is why people often recoil when they catch of whiff of mimicry, ending any chance of a social bond.
Yet, perhaps a bit of imitation wouldn't hurt. After all, it is the sincerest form of flattery, no?

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