The liking gap – We tend to underestimate the positive first impression we make on strangers

Talking to someone new can be daunting, but such conversations “have the power to turn strangers into friends, coffee dates into marriages, and interviews into jobs,” note the authors of a new paper, published in Psychological Science, which has found that perhaps we shouldn’t feel so anxious about them. Across five studies, the researchers explored what strangers thought about each other after chatting, and they found consistent evidence for what they call a “liking gap” – other people like us more than we think. Though in other areas of life many of us have a rosy-tinted view of our abilities, it seems that we tend to under-estimate how we come across socially.

For the first study, Erica Boothby at Cornell University, US, and her fellow researchers simply paired up 34 students for a guided conversation (with ice-breaker questions provided) for five minutes, and got them to complete some personality scales and ratings of the conversation, including what they thought of their partner and how they imagined their partner would rate them. The researchers found that the participants significantly under-estimated how much their partner liked them. And the analysis of the personality data revealed one key driver: the shyer the person, the bigger the liking gap (only for those who ranked low for shyness did the gap disappear entirely).

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