Have you ever met someone you liked and you enjoyed speaking with, but felt you didn’t quite come across the way you wanted to in conversation? Not that you said anything offensive or wrong, but that you probably didn’t make the impression that you’d wanted. It turns out, many people feel that way. A lot of the time.
Social Judgment: They Probably Liked You More Than You Think
If you’ve ever felt self-doubt after meeting and chatting with someone for the first time, this finding is a breath of fresh air. In a recent series of studies, people consistently underrated how much other people liked them after a conversation. The experimenters had a series of strangers meet each other for the first time and ask each other a series of questions (both scripted and unscripted). After the conversation, the participants rated how much they liked the other person and how much they thought the other person liked them. It turns out, other people actually liked them significantly more than was perceived.
Even more surprising was that both individuals were communicating “liking” through body language. Impartial observers could accurately predict how much each participant liked the other, suggesting that participants were sending visual signals in their body language and facial expressions about how much they were enjoying the conversation. But the signals were not being received by the speaker. To understand why, experimenters asked participants after the conversations to report on the thoughts that occurred to them about themselves and about their partner during the conversation. They found that negative internal self-thoughts (“Ugh, I shouldn’t have said that…”) mediated the liking-gap — the more negative self-talk, the bigger the difference between actual and perceived liking.
And though longer conversations tended to lead to more liking, the gap in perceived and actual liking persisted regardless of the length of the conversation. This finding didn’t just manifest in a lab — in a real-world observational study of 100 participants meeting for the first time, the experimenters found a 20% increase in actual liking relative to perceived liking after these conversations.
Social judgment is a strong fear that can cause serious anxiety. This study suggests that negative thoughts about your own social abilities might be leading you to miss cues from the other person that they actually quite enjoy your company! If you take anything away from this, it’s that you shouldn’t over think it. They probably liked you more than you know.
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
How to Generate Word of Mouth
If you browse the review section of most products or services online, you will find a mix of very satisfied and very displeased comments. Whether they are happy, excited, shocked, or outraged, high intensity feelings cause the people who experience them to spread the word about what happened.
This is good news for marketers and product managers who wish to encourage word of mouth with experiences that cause strong positive feelings. But when consumers experience and share negative emotions, how do we resolve the issue and mitigate the spread of negative perceptions?
It helps to consider why people share intense positive and negative emotions. Historically, this has been a tricky question to pin down, as the effects of emotions on word of mouth have not been consistent. In a series of six studies, a recent paper found that motivations for sharing highly positive and negative events differed. In the experiments, participants pictured receiving an upgrade from an airline to a seat in first class, or having their seat downgraded to the crowded back of the plane. Participants were asked a series of questions about what they would text a friend if they were able, what sort of response they’d want to receive from their friend, and what types of emotions they were experiencing.
The experiment found that participants who experienced the positive event of an upgrade shared excited messages with their friends, and hoped to receive excited messages in return. The researchers concluded that participants shared their experiences because they wanted to maintain the highly positive emotions they were experiencing.
In contrast, participants who experienced the negative event of a downgrade shared woeful messages, and hoped to receive calming, sympathetic messages from friends. This suggests that when people have negative experiences, they share them for entirely different reasons. They shared them because they want their emotions to be calmed, not maintained. Arousing negative emotions are unpleasant, and participants share them with others as a form of emotion regulation.
This is critical for knowing how to respond to consumers. People want positive, excited responses to their positive messages, and calm, soothing responses to their negative messages. Ultimately, we should do what we can to be warm towards people who share negative emotions, to help their negative feelings diminish.
Teeny, J., Deng, X., & Unnava, H. R. (2020). The “Buzz” Behind the Buzz Matters: Energetic and Tense Arousal as Separate Motivations for Word of Mouth. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 30(3), 429-446.
How Simple Training Games Help Develop Healthy Habits
Changing bad habits is tough, especially when they include inherently pleasurable things like eating junk food or watching TV. Over time, we learn to seek items in the world that bring us an immediate sense of pleasure, which can lead to an unhealthy cycle. Different behavioral methods have tried to halt the bad habit cycle at different steps, with varying success.
One approach has been to stop individuals from seeking items that are bad for them. One simple method called an “approach avoidance” training paradigm has been used in studies to curb individuals’ tendencies to approach unhealthy items. In versions of the training procedure, participants are shown a series of items and told to “approach” items that are good for them and to “avoid” items that are bad for them. Responses are typically made with button presses on a computer, and interestingly, running participants through this simple procedure has been shown to reduce alcohol consumption among alcoholics and reduce certain types of phobias. However, this training is not always effective.
Another recent study examined what could be done to improve the paradigm. They reasoned that adding reinforcement, such as getting points or money when bad items are avoided, would break the habit cycle by helping participants dissociate the item from the immediate sense of pleasure it would usually bring them.
In a series of four experiments, participants played a computer-based training game with avatars (the participant could customize the gender) they could move around a room that contained a fridge. Participants moved toward or away from the fridge depending on what it contained. If participants moved toward it when it contained bad food, the avatar would lean over and say “I feel sick”. If it approached healthy food, it would say “I feel healthy”. In some conditions, the avatar had a health bar that would increase or decrease when healthy or unhealthy foods were eaten.
The study examined whether completing this game many times would influence participants’ behaviour later. They found that this training increased positive perceptions of the items they approached (e.g., if the food items were novel). It also increased healthy eating intentions 24 hours later, and lowered unhealthy eating during a snack task with real food items.
The study shows a clever way to remove the positive feelings and induce negative feelings in a way that short-circuits the bad habit cycle and can have lasting impact!
Van Dessel, P., Hughes, S., & De Houwer, J. (2018). Consequence-based approach-avoidance training: A new and improved method for changing behavior. Psychological Science, 29(12), 1899-1910.