They Like You. They Really, Really Like You.

a photograph of actress Sally Field standing between two unknown gentlemen
Image Source by Alan Light

While I’m a generally sunny person with a positive temperament, I’m not immune to sadness. Self-doubt.

The timing of these slumps can be rather unpredictable. But the negative thoughts I experience? Well, those tend to fall into a few very predictable categories.

And when I’m down on myself, there’s one line of negative thinking that I tend to encounter over and over again: I start to think that no one likes me. That they’re indifferent to me or may even secretly hate me.

This can happen in spite of loads of evidence to the contrary. A healthy smattering of close friendships. Good romantic relationships.

It doesn’t matter. It’s easy for me to think this way, especially when I get feeling blue (typically because I’m stressed out by other things).

But it turns out I’m not alone. It is in fact very common to underestimate how much other people like us.

It even has a special name.

The Liking Gap

This common phenomenon is known as the liking gap. The liking gap is our tendency to underestimate how much other people like us, in general and particularly following an initial conversation (how the researchers first identified and noted the phenomenon). In a recent set of five studies, researchers repeatedly found that people rated their conversation partners as consistently more likable than those conversation partners thought they would be rated following an initial meeting.

Furthermore, they also rated the conversations to be more enjoyable and interesting than their partners thought they would rate them.

The team tested this effect both in a laboratory setting as well as a realistic workshop setting in which people came to learn how to “talk with strangers.”

The team also found that this liking gap was especially pronounced among people who were especially shy (as indicated by their scores on measures of shyness).

And finally, the team found that uninvolved third parties who viewed videotapes of the interactions were far less likely to have a liking gap and more accurately rated how much the videotaped participants liked one another.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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