People love to be loved. So much so that when we find out people like us, we start to like them more. This is called ‘reciprocal liking’ and it’s such a powerful phenomenon that it can actually make up for the absence of the three keys to attraction (check those out here) which are often crucial elements in the formation of relationships. One of those keys, for instance, is similarity. The more aligned people are with our interests, values and beliefs, the more we are attracted to them. A study conducted in 1984 by Dr Joel Gold and his colleagues showed that even when participants disagreed with a person on important issues, if that person maintained eye contact, leaned towards them and listened attentively, the participant would express great liking for them after the fact.
Reciprocal liking leaves physical attraction dead in the water!
In fact, this ‘reciprocal liking’ phenomenon was recently found to trump physical attractiveness! In 2012, Nick Koranyi and Klaus Rothermund manipulated a long known (both anecdotally and scientifically) quirk that humans have a preference for attractive faces over unattractive ones (the reason is thought to be because it’s easier to cognitively process attractive faces, since attractive faces are more symmetrical). By introducing the idea that a someone a participant had feelings for returned those feelings, it messed up the well established finding. It completely disrupted the participants’ preferences for attractive faces. Imagine how much of an effect it would have when we were face to face with that person. Well, don’t because Eliot Aronson and his colleagues tested it.
They paired people up and experimented multiple times by telling the pairings (in private) that the other person liked them, didn’t like them or said nothing at all. Those that ‘liked’ each other were friendlier, argued less and were more likely to report liking the person who ‘liked’ them first.
As famous social psychologist Eliot Aronson put it while summarising thirty years of research; possibly the most important determinant of how much we like a person is the extent to which we believe they like us (i.e. reciprocal liking). It’s thought that it does this because it’s related to self esteem, an extremely influential part of our psyche and one that regularly flexes it’s muscles (more on that here). It’s been noted that those with higher self-esteem respond far more significantly to the effect than those with less. As Nethanial Branden put it, ‘self esteem creates… expectations about what is possible [for us]’.
And with that extraordinarily poetic statement (for a psychologist), what is possible for us?
- Don’t be afraid to let people know how you feel. If you like someone, platonically or otherwise, speak! It will clarify and strengthen your relationships.
- Have you ever seen a friend of yours chuck a 180 on their opinion of a person when they found out how the other person felt? Now you know why. Perhaps it wasn’t quite so drastic. Or perhaps you haven’t noticed at all. You will now. Notice how differently people treat each other as they notice (or make assumptions) about how others feel about them
- And finally, although I would never advise meddling in another person’s affairs, it never hurts to be able to have this in your arsenal when advising a friend not to get together with ‘him‘ or ‘her‘. Or even to help them explain why a romance or friendship went so horribly awry as they sometimes do.
And with that, I leave you. Have you seen our article on the seven theories psychologists use that you can hack to better your relationships? Or for something less wordy, a short sharp article on why your advice might just be terrible? Giving you The Dirt on your search for understanding, psychological freedom and the good life at The Dirt Psychology.