Other People Probably Like You More Than You Think They Do

Research suggests there is a "liking gap" after conversations.

Posted Oct 21, 2019

Mikhail Gorbunov - CC BY-SA 3.0
Source: Mikhail Gorbunov - CC BY-SA 3.0

You probably meet new people all the time. You may get introduced to new people at school or work. You meet people at parties and during activities. Some of these people are ones you will meet just that one time. But others are people you may want to connect with again. To make that happen, you need to decide whether someone else likes you enough to be willing to meet up again.

How good are you at making that judgment?

This question was explored in a paper in the November 2018 issue of Psychological Science by Erica Boothby, Gus Cooney, Gillian Sandstrom, and Margaret Clark.

They performed several studies that had a similar structure. In these studies, strangers had a brief conversation (ranging in length from five minutes to 45 minutes). Afterward, the participants rated how much they liked their conversation partner as well as how much they thought their conversation partner would like them.

On the one hand, people’s predictions of how much people would like them were pretty good. In general, if you thought that the other person would like you (or would not), you were just about right. On the other hand, people also systematically underestimated how much other people would like them. That is their ratings of how much their conversation partner liked them were pessimistic. The researchers called this the liking gap.

This finding was not just obtained for brief conversations. The researchers collected ratings of how much first-year college students liked their suitemates and how much their suitemates liked them. The liking gap was observed for the first 2/3 of the school year. By the end of the school year, though, people’s ratings of how much their suitemates liked them were accurate.

Why does this happen?

In one study, the conversations were videotaped. Independent raters were able to predict how much a person liked their conversation partner by the way that person acted during the conversation. So, people could potentially get accurate information from their conversation partner about how much they are liked. They are just not using that information.

Another study collected thoughts people were having during the conversation. The number of negative thoughts people had about the conversation predicted the liking gap. This finding suggests that people overemphasize thoughts about whether a conversation is going badly, which leads them to think that other people do not like them as much as they actually do.

This research suggests that you should probably give yourself the benefit of the doubt when you meet other people. Even if you feel like you had a bad conversation with them, chances are you made a favorable impression. Other people probably like you better than you think they do.

That also means that if you’re interested in meeting up with someone again, you should reach out. You might be pleasantly surprised to find out that the other person would like to hang out with you as well.

That said, it is important to point out that this research was focused on people’s interest in getting to know someone else better, not on romantic attraction. So, these results don’t say anything about your ability to predict whether someone is attracted to you based on a brief conversation.

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Boothby, E.J., Cooney, G., Sandstrom, G.M., Clark, M.S. (2018). The liking gap in conversations: Do people like us more than we think? Psychological Science, 29(11), 1742-1756.