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You're more likeable than you realise - according to science


Posted: 653 days ago

New research finds that we often underestimate how much we are liked in social interactions, and it's called the 'liking gap.'

How do you feel when you meet new people? Are you confident and self-assured? Or are you questioning everything you say and convincing yourself the other person is bored? If the latter situation resonates with you, then you might be falling into something called the ‘liking gap.’ This gap in confidence refers to people’s tendency to be self-critical and describes how we often underestimate how much other people like us. 

We’re missing the signs

Meeting someone for the first time and having a chat seems to be a daunting process for most people. And it’s this common fear that’s sparked a slew of research into what's been aptly dubbed the ‘liking gap.’ As Gus Cooney, a social psychologist and organiser of the session ‘Why Conversations Go Better Than We Think,’ at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Convention, said ‘we’re all fascinated by the fact that conversations are ubiquitous and important, but also widely feared.’ 

The study by Dr Erica Boothby, which first uncovered this gap in our perception, found that when people were given 20 everyday activities they continually ranked their ability to have a conversation at the bottom of the list. People also ranked others as being better than them in these conversations, according to Dr Boothby’s research. 

During the initial study, Dr Boothby and fellow researchers paired up 34 students to have conversations, with ice-breaker questions provided and asked them to chat for 5-minutes. The participants were then asked to complete some personality scales, and ratings of the conversations, including what they rated their partner and how they believed their partner would rate them. The researchers found that participants often underestimated how much their partner had liked them. Furthermore, independent observers were asked to watch the participants interactions and report on how much it seemed each person like each other. Their scores were then correlated against the rates given by each participant. It was found that the observers were more accurately able to assess how much each pairing had liked one another - as, the participants often ranked their likability as lower. In other words, even when people are giving us social cues that they like us - cues that are clear to those around - these same cues might not be clear to us.  

Time to stop self-criticising 

After this initial study, Dr Erica Boothby conducted more research with a new group of 84 students, that centred on the potential role of negative thoughts in the ‘liking gap.’ Participants in this second study talked for 5 minutes with an assigned partner and were then asked to report on any prominent thoughts that popped up while they were chatting. These thoughts were then categorised into ‘negative’ or ‘positive’ thoughts. 

The researchers found that when people had more negative thoughts about their interaction, they were more likely to underestimate how liked they were by their partner. This indicates that the people who had more negative thoughts during their interaction assumed that these thoughts were true. These participants believed that their interaction buddy was judging them when actually, they were being hypercritical of themselves. 

So, what can we learn from Dr Boothby’s research?

The findings are a great reality check for those who struggle with meeting new people and the social anxiety that comes with being too self-critical. It shows us that, more often than not, people are far more judgemental towards themselves than they are towards others. Furthermore, our thoughts aren’t reality, they are simply our perception of the unfolding events. So notice the signs, and challenge your inner critic, because you’re actually much more likeable then you believe – it’s scientifically proven! 


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