Enhancing Empathy Through Behavioral Mirroring: A 5-minute Experiential Activity

by Dr. Andrew Bennett, Old Dominion University


One component necessary to enhance positive change in the world is increased empathy and perspective taking. Behavioral mirroring / behavioral synchrony is one activity that has shown promise for improving individual empathy (Bräuninger, 2014) and self-other awareness (Koch, Mehl, Sobanski, Sieber, & Fuch, 2015). This exercise guides participants through a short behavioral mirroring activity with provided instructions and debrief questions. The mirroring activity is appropriate for skill development courses (e.g., Managerial Skills, Negotiations) or as a short exercise when teaching about ethics in business.



This behavioral mirroring exercise aims to improve participant empathy and perspective taking, a critical component to enhancing positive change.


Overview / Instructions

[Can be read aloud]


Please find a partner and designate one person as for the “A” role and the other person for the “B” role.

(Pause to allow time for participants to find partners)

This activity is one in which you will mirror the other. If you are leading, make sure to make your movements as if you are in slow motion. If you are mirroring the other person, remember that you should be looking at the other person and moving your face just as they do – but as if in a mirror. It may help to pretend that there is a mirror in front of you, so if the leader closes their left eye, your close your right eye. This is not Simon Says where you do what the other person does afterwards – your goal as a mirrored image is to make the action at the same time they are doing it.


Person A, you will start as the leader. Move you face, and only your face, in slow motion. Try making different facial movements or displaying different emotions. Person B, mirror the facial expressions of Person A.

(Allow 1 minute)

Next, Person B, you are the leader. Person A, you must mirror Person B’s face.

(Allow 30 seconds).

Next, Person B you are still the leader. This time, you may move your arms, legs, and torso as well. Again, move slowly! Person A, continue to mirror Person B’s movements.

(Allow 1 minute)

Now switch – Person A you can lead, moving your entire body. Person B, mirror their movements in real time.

(Allow 30 seconds).



A short debrief of this exercise includes the following questions:

  • How did you feel when mirroring someone else?
  • How did you feel when you were leading the activity?
  • What did you learn from this experience?
  • What was difficult about this experience?


An additional debrief can review recent research about mirroring and behavioral changes. For example, recent neuroscientific research has shown that behavioral synchronization or action mimicry sparks the use of mirror neurons within the brain (Iacoboni, 2009). These mirror neurons are considered one of the building blocks of empathy development (Pfeifer, Iacoboni, Mazziotta, & Dapretto, 2008).



Bräuninger, I. (2014). Specific dance movement therapy interventions - Which are successful? An intervention and correlation study. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 41, 445-457.

Iacoboni, M. (2009). Imitation, empathy, and mirror neurons. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 653-670.

Koch, S. C., Mehl, L., Sobanski, E., Sieber, M., & Fuchs, T. (2015). Fixing the mirrors: A feasibility study of the effects of dance movement therapy on young adults with autism spectrum disorder. Autism, 19, 338-350.

Pfeifer, J. H., Iacoboni, M., Mazziotta, J. C., & Dapretto, M. (2008). Mirroring others' emotions relates to empathy and interpersonal competence in children. Neuroimage, 39, 2076-2085.