We Vastly Underestimate How Much the People Who Like Us Actually Like Us

Matt Mason
3 min readFeb 22, 2024
Photo by Yoav Hornung on Unsplash

There’s an internet meme that goes around every so often with the words “we’d worry less about what people think of us if we realised how rarely they do”. Humans are social creatures. We seek community and togetherness in a range of ways. Forming communities — be it online or in real life — requires that those we perceive as “our people” like us and like being around us.

But this quote attempts to use indifference as a point of comfort. Is indifference really enough to quell those anxieties? Is it really the key to understanding the gap between how much people like us and how much we believe they like us?

A recent article in Harvard Business Review highlighted a ten-year study that put people together who had never met before. Across both work and social situations, they questioned each of them on both how much they liked the other person and how much they thought the other person liked them — if at all. The perception of what it means to like that person and vice versa was open to interpretation, so it wasn’t driven by a clear set of defined criteria to tick off. It was simply “did you like this person, and how much do you think they liked you?”

That study is here:

You’d be forgiven for thinking this was about first impressions only, but it isn’t. The study found that even six months later when they’re no longer strangers and have some kind of relationship, people still perceive that other likes them less than they actually do.

The gap between how we perceive people like us and how much they actually like us has been called a “liking gap”. The most surprising thing is the number of people who came away thinking they made a far worse impression than they actually did!

I can understand it in a way. Maybe assuming people like us less than they actually do is kind of defence mechanism? The kind that, when taken to the next step, might lead us to push away people who care about us on the presumption that they’re faking…

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Matt Mason

A demisexual childfree nerd who uses Medium for exploring curiosities, for venting, and for the frivolous.