The Science of Likability: 27 Studies to Master Charisma, Attract Friends, Captivate People, and Take Advantage of Human Psychology

Patrick King writes:

* Memories have long been found to be context-dependent, first by Godden and Baddeley in 1975 in their breakthrough publication “Context-Dependent Memory in Two Natural Environments: On Land and Underwater,” which means memories are heavily linked to the environment, events, sounds, feelings, and even smells that were present during the formation of the memory. The researchers found that either being on land or underwater led subjects to recall different sets of memories.

We can see this in our everyday lives. For instance, this is why so many of us fall into bouts of nostalgia when we hear certain songs—the song is information that is linked to much more than the song itself.

* memories were also mood-dependent. In other words, the mood we had when the memory was formed is also part of the memory. The information is in there somewhere, and Eich and his associates found that appealing to those hidden aspects of memories allows you to influence people’s moods for the better.

* Participants who were in good moods typically recalled positive memories while participants who were in bad moods typically recalled negative memories. And of course, the subsequent memories recalled served to further increase the moods they were in—misery and happiness both grew.

* This is the first step in becoming a presence that people start to crave; if you either (1) directly talk about positive memories or (2) indirectly evoke elements that were present at the time of that positive memory (recall how holistic and three-dimensional memory is), people will slip into the mood they were in during that

* Talk to people in terms of what makes them happy, and it will make them happier.

* No one is drawn to the person that reminds them of the last funeral they went to.

* You’d be surprised how effective staying in a good mood, putting on a happy face, praising others, and acting positive is. In fact, there is a term for the contagious power of positivity: emotional contagion.

* Finally, the stimulus-value-role model of social interaction states that to get to someone’s inner circle, you have to show three levels of compatibility: stimulus, value, and role. To use this model, you have to first
understand which stage you are currently at with someone, and then you can understand what you need to do before moving into the next stage. The deepest level is role: working together, collaborating, and resolving

* Often, we treat people like strangers when we meet them. This sounds natural, but it is actually detrimental to building rapport and being likable. Treat them like a friend and they will treat you like a friend. This is backed
up by the theory of transference, which states that people transfer their emotions of someone else to those they see acting in a familiar way or role.

•We don’t realize it, but we have the ability to set the tone of our relationships, and you might be causing the very source of your unhappiness by not acting the part of a friend.

•Another aspect of treating people like a friend right off the bat is to understand how the Pygmalion effect works. People live up to the expectations we give them. If we treat them like strangers, they will remain strangers. If we expect that they are interesting, we will treat them in a way that allows them to demonstrate this. All of this requires more effort on your part, but you have the ability to set the tone, so use it.

•Next, we come to self-verification theory. This states that we naturally gravitate toward and like people who confirm our self-perception—they see us as we like and want to be seen. This makes people feel understood, seen, and heard. It’s not manipulation or fakery so much as the act of validating people and letting them know they are, again, understood, seen, and heard.

•Finally, we arrive at friendship chemistry—this is typically what we think of when we think of hitting it off with someone. But just like everything that you’ve read so far, there is far more intentionality than you might
assume, even if it is largely unconscious on your part. Exactly what instantly draws us to someone, and vice versa, is generally categorized into five elements: reciprocal candor, mutual interests, personableness, simi-
larity, and physical attraction. What is perhaps most illuminating and encouraging is that these are elements that we mostly have control over, most of the time.

* Trust has been shown to work in a linear fashion. The more you see someone, the more you trust them, regardless of interaction or depth. This is known as the propinquity effect, and it is similar to how studies have shown that customers only purchase after seeing a product seven times. It is also similar to the mere exposure effect, where feelings of preference and affection show a linear relationship with the frequency of interactions we have with something/someone rather than the quality of those interactions.

•Credibility is a notch above trust; trust is about people feeling that they can believe you, and credibility is where people also feel that they can rely on you. There are also proven ways to create an aura of credibility around yourself. These include highlighting qualifications, showing your caring and empathy, showing similarity, being assertive, showing social proof, not contradicting yourself, and avoiding being overly polite.

* Not being perfect is endearing to people. Vulnerability is attractive and relatable, and it ensures that you
aren’t intimidating to others. Don’t pretend you’re perfect—you’re not, anyway—because it will probably backfire on you.

* One of the easiest ways to make people lower their guards is to stop trying to be perfect and impressive. Instead, try to be relatable and harmless to a degree. Nothing epitomizes that better than the pratfall effect, which shows the attractiveness of imperfection and vulnerability. This also works because you are catering to people’s insecurities and allowing them to feel that are you not a source of judgment.

•Another method of lowering people’s guards is to make rough times better, which is possible through using the Losada ratio. This ratio should govern the amount of positive and negative remarks you use—roughly 2.9 positive statements will generally make up for one negative statement and can be the difference between a stressed and “languishing” mind versus a happy and “flourishing” mind. Who would have thought that being nice and positive to others could increase our likability?

•Asking people for advice is a powerful element of lowering people’s guards. When we ask questions, especially on topics that they feel specially equipped to answer, they will open up and can’t wait to share. In
fact, they won’t be able to shut up, usually. In addition, asking for advice shows respect and belief in someone’s intelligence and abilities.

•The Benjamin Franklin effect is where you ask someone else to perform a favor for you, and surprisingly, this makes them like you more. This goes against the conventional view that doing things for others is what creates
goodwill and affection. The psychological component behind this is known as cognitive dissonance, which is when the brain is trying to make two conflicting thoughts exist with each other. Thus, “I don’t like him” plus “I did this for him” equals “I suppose I like him enough.” Asking for favors also closes the psychological distance and shows vulnerability.

* The more information about you that is out there, the less readily people can judge and stereotype you,
simply because you can’t fit into singular stereotypes anymore.

* Thus, we come to a 2015 study by William von Hippel called “Quick Thinkers Are Smooth Talkers: Mental Speed Facilitates Charisma,” which provides a clear and instructive lesson that will make an impact on how others perceive you. As you might gather from the name of the study, his discovery was that speed of thought and dialogue was more related to people’s ratings of charisma than many other traits, including being correct or accurate. In fact, if you were to prioritize one aspect of interaction, quickness would be highest rated.

* If someone appears to have a speedy answer for everything, especially in a confident and assertive manner, then we find it appealing for some reason. Why might this be? Humans place incredible weight on perception.

Speed is associated with intelligence and social acumen. Think about how we perceive people who are slow to answer, who make us wait, and need a joke explained more than once. Now contrast that to someone who has snappy and witty comebacks and can rattle off jokes that we can barely keep up with. Indeed, we use speed as a proxy for intelligence and charm, and we tend to become enamored with those who speak quickly and confidently.

* The first theory on humor is called the superiority theory of humor and was mentioned as early as Aristotle and Plato in roughly 300 BC. It is finding humor in the misfortune of others and, therefore, our own superiority that we would not fall victim to said misfortune. We laugh at others because we see the differences illus-
trated between us. This is also related to schadenfreude, which is a German word roughly translating to “enjoying the misfortune of others.” This theory is easy to see in action; you can reliably find it in your local ice-skating rink as you watch people flail about and try to keep themselves upright.

The second theory is known as the relief theory of humor, which states that humor comes as a result of the release of psychological tension. Herbert Spencer in The Physiology of Laughter in 1860 postulated that we are always in a sort of nervous state, and laughter is the constant feeling of relief at feeling safe and having a pleasant outcome. It was later expounded on by Sigmund Freud, who of course saw it through a sexual and unconscious perspective. But on a more daily level, we might see this play out by mistakenly being told that your restaurant bill is double what it should be and then having the error corrected. At first, tension would grow,
but upon correcting the bill, you might laugh in a release of tension. The third theory is what the top joke in the world played on—a sense of surprise and subverted expectations. It is called the incongruity theory, and it states that we find humor in the incongruity, or gap, between our expectations and reality. If we hear X and Y, then we find an incongruity when we actually hear Z instead.

* there are no comedy movies that have consistently struck gold in international box offices because
humor is rooted in language and cultural and contextual norms. However, action and adventure movies routinely break box office records because there’s no cultural translation required for an explosion or flying car.

* Whatever traits you describe in others, people will transfer to you. If you talk about someone being lazy, people will more likely think you’re lazy. If you describe others as engaging and cheerful, they will also think that about you.

* bad gossip is bad for people’s perceptions of you and your likability. You see it with spontaneous trait trans-
ference, and you also see it in “Is Gossip Power? The Inverse Relationships Between Gossip, Power, and Likability” from 2011, where Sally Farley explored and ex-panded on Dunbar’s findings on social grooming. She found that what she deemed “prolific” gossipers were much less liked than non-gossipers, and those who were negative gossipers were liked the least of all. Out of a scale of 117, negative gossipers scored an average of 37 for likability while non-gossipers scored an average of 47. In addition, prolific gossipers were seen as socially weaker and with
less influence.

This seems to contradict Dunbar’s earlier findings on the essentiality of gossip and idle chit-chat, but on the topic, Farley stated, “Perhaps high gossipers are individuals who we welcome into our social networks for fear of losing the opportunity to learn information, but we tend to keep them at arm’s length.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
This entry was posted in Psychology. Bookmark the permalink.