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Meeting new people is exciting, but also kind of overwhelming and you might have found yourself wondering if they really liked you. But turns out, they do really like you most of the time, and you might be just too hard on yourself.

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[♪ INTRO ].

Conversations with new people can be sort of terrifying. I mean, they can also be awesome!

There's always a chance you're about to learn something fascinating or add a cool new friend to your life. But you are making a first impression. And at some point, you might be left with a creeping sense of, “Did they actually like me?” Most of us are willing to believe that other people find us perfectly tolerable.

But it can be hard to tell whether they liked you enough to want to spend time with you again. Psychologists think that we might be too hard on ourselves, though. Most of the time, people probably like you better after talking to you than you think they do.

It's called the liking gap. But if you know it's there… well, maybe you can chill out about first impressions and just enjoy your time with new people. Psychologists have been studying meta-accuracy, or your ability to correctly judge others' feelings about you, for a long time.

But the study that gave the liking gap its name was published in 2018 in the journal. Psychological Science. It looked at participants' encounters with new people in five different experiments.

Some of the experiments asked undergrads to talk with new people for five minutes or for as long as they liked. In others, participants spoke with people they met at a workshop or reported on their relationships with their roommates over the course of their freshman year of college. The researchers found that participants consistently underestimated how much their partner liked them, and assumed they'd enjoyed the conversation more than their partner had, no matter how long or short the conversation.

Being shy predicted an even bigger liking gap. And the roommates? They kept experiencing the liking gap in all the check-ins throughout the academic year, except for the very last one in May.

While this could suggest you'll eventually figure out that people really do like you, the gap might have gone away because by then, they discussed how they got along and decided whether or not they wanted to live together again. It's worth noting that we're not talking about social anxiety disorder here. While social anxiety disorder is all about the fear of being negatively judged or rejected in social situations, it's a much more intense anxiety that affects your day-to-day life and your ability to spend time with friends and family.

That's probably best treated by a psychiatrist or therapist. The liking gap is a less extreme, more universal tendency to underestimate how much other people like you. And it's actually kind of surprising that it exists, because people usually think they're great at stuff.

Studies have repeatedly found a better-than-average effect, where people tend to think they're better than the average person at things like driving a car. Even though obviously we can't all be better than average, because, you know, math. But there are a number of factors that can help explain the liking gap.

One is the situation itself, because conversations can be stressful. Something as simple as wanting to present yourself well has been shown to change the way people evaluate their performance. Conversations are also hard.

Like literally cognitively demanding. You have to listen while also mentally rehearsing that clever anecdote you're about to tell and then oh no wait the moment went by it would be weird if you told it now and then ack, what was a question? Which means that we often aren't paying attention to the subtle cues other people are giving us.

But even if you are, researchers have suggested that people might not provide enough useful feedback for you to come to the conclusion that they like you, either out of politeness or out of a fear of being rejected themselves. For instance, one 1972 study of nearly 200 undergraduates found that people tend to hold back both positive and negative evaluations of others, especially when they're not very close to the person they're making judgments about. So given that conversations are messy and confusing, we often base our estimates of how much other people like us on the best set of data we have: our own views of ourselves.

Which can be… misguided. Psychologists have suggested that you guess what other people are thinking of you by taking baby steps away from your own point of view until you reach something that seems plausible. But, of course, we're super biased about what's plausible.

For one thing, you might not be taking into account the fact that people you've never met tend to assume that you conform to social norms. They expect you to be kind, because most people are kind to strangers and don't start yelling at them with no provocation. This isn't the Sims.

But also, researchers have found that social situations make people focus much more on their own failings. Which makes evolutionary sense: it's good to learn from your social mistakes so that you don't get kicked off the island. You also have a lot of previous experiences to compare yourself against, so you might notice that your performance in this conversation is considerably less great than all the other conversations you've ever had.

That badly delivered punchline sticks out like a sore thumb to you. In other words: We judge ourselves too harshly, and then assume other people are making judgments similar to ours. Resulting in… a liking gap.

This isn't something you can just change about your brain overnight. But just knowing that the liking gap exists can be kind of comforting. Because the people you meet probably like you more than you think they do, and that's honestly kind of awesome news.

Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych! I'll just tell you straight up and leave the guesswork out of it: If you're a fan of free resources for science education, we like you a lot. And hey, we have something in common!

You also might be interested in joining our community over on Patreon, whose support is what allowed us to create this channel in the first place. Just go to to check it out! [ ♪OUTRO ].