I’ve recently started frequenting Pret a Manger again (once I realised it was no longer owned by MacDonalds)… at the till I am greeted with a smile, small chit chat and waved off with a cheery and sincere ‘have a nice day’; all in all a pleasant experience .  The server effused an ebullience and according to company policy ‘authentic happiness’.  It left me with a feeling of mild contentedness, so much so that as I slurped on my Thai Chicken soup, I soon found myself chatting amiably to the person sitting next door to me.  And then it got me thinking, good customer service for sure, but more, Pret is creating a cycle of what scientists coin ‘reciprocated happiness’. This might seem far fetched, but mimicry is the pinnacle of social interaction.  You know if you see a person yawn, 5 minutes later you are yawning.  If someone smiles at you on the street it is almost impossible not to smile back.  There was an experiment done back in the 1960s which showed that during social interaction people emulate each other’s body language within twenty-one milliseconds.  That means we do it without thinking, it’s totally unconscious;  we can’t help but copy our companions.  And this creates a rapport and bond.  More than anything humans need connection; meaningful heartfelt relationships extend our lives, lower our blood pressure, create healthy bodies, more so than nutrition, more so than diet and exercise, more so than frequent visits to the doctor.  It is a real driver for survival. Another experiment showed that when small groups of people have to remain silent over a period of 2 minutes or so, everyone in the group ends up adopting the mood of the most expressive person.  Another shows that if you live with a depressive person, you are at risk of becoming depressed.  You can’t help to respond or to adopt the behaviour of the person you are with. Thus team spirit, company culture, your group of friends, your neighbours, the people you interact with everyday; it all starts to take on a greater deeper meaning.

It’s also interesting to note that our ability to ‘mimic unconsciously’, determines the relationships we have around us.  Charismatic personalities are emotionally expressive and demand that you imitate them; they often have great followings, think Martin Luther King, Bill Clinton.  Those who are naturals and mirror with relative ease, are seen as far more understanding and likeable, they are the empathetic types.  Think your therapist, yoga teacher (ha ha), a special friend.   But do not be duped in to thinking that all you need do to become more ‘likeable’ is to copy your companions…..experiments have been done where people actively imitate each other in conversation, and the relationship building miserably fails.  The experimentees came out feeling a little uneasy, that their companions were insincere and superficial.  Rapport could not be established.  Mimicry has to be real as well as instantaneous.  When real, it creates involuntary physiological reactions in your body, which are barely susceptible to the human eye, your  puplis dilate, your pulse quickens, your heart beats faster.  This is what we pick up on… extraordinary but unsurprising that human connection is so subtle, discriminating and sophisticated.  Pret a Manger’s policy of ‘authentic happiness’ might work momentarily but I am not convinced it would over a longer period of time.

This leads me on to Botox. For all sorts of reasons I find Botox fascinating.  Very occasionally I flirt with idea of having it; we live in a society which heralds youth and beauty over wisdom and virtue.  Speed and instant gratification preferred over steadiness and stability.  Botox may answer to this, but  it freezes your face and thus your ability to create facial expression is lessened.  This therefore prohibits mimicry, even if you are the talented, empathetic sort, you nevertheless end up reducing your ability to build relationships.  Remember that we can detect and emulate each others facial expressions and body language within twenty one milliseconds, and they are tiny tiny imperceptible facial movements.   Besides, there have been a number of experiments that prove Botox ihhibits your ability to build rapport.  How ironic, then, that we inject Botox to become more attractive and more likeable but it actually has the opposite effect.  And remember too, a la picture featured we can have too much of it.

So my take home; choose your friends / colleagues / people you hang out with wisely and say no to Botox.