The Unconscious Can Spot A Lie Even When the Conscious Mind Fails (M)

The conscious mind may hamper our abilities to detect lying.

The conscious mind may hamper our abilities to detect lying.

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Familiarity Breeds Contempt: Why We End Up Disliking People

Familiarity breeds contempt, according to psychologists: on average, we like other people less the more we know about them.

Familiarity breeds contempt, according to psychologists: on average, we like other people less the more we know about them.

Given how irritating other people sometimes are, it’s surprising how many of us are eternal optimists about forming new relationships.

Indeed people seem primed to like others: the ‘mere exposure effect’ is a robust social psychological finding demonstrating that just being exposed to someone causes us to like them more.

A good example of the ‘mere exposure’ effect is a study by Moreland and Beach (1992) who introduced four fake students to a large college course.

Each of the fake students – chosen to be of similar appearance – attended the course to varying degrees, some going to many classes, others to few; but none interacted with the other students.

At the end of the course the one student most people preferred, despite never having talked to her, was the one who had attended the most classes.

If the mere exposure effect holds for developing social relationships then, as we come to know more about others, we should come to like them more.

It seems familiarity should breed liking.

A recent study by Michael I. Norton from the Harvard Business School and colleagues certainly suggests that this is most people’s intuitive understanding (Norton, Frost & Ariely, 2007).

Norton and colleagues first surveyed members of an online dating site, asking them whether they generally preferred someone they knew little about, or who they knew more about. 81% said they would prefer the person they knew more about.

In a second survey of undergraduate students fully 88% said they would prefer someone they knew more about.

So much for people’s expectations, let’s see how they really behave.

Why familiarity breeds contempt

In the next part of the study by Norton and colleagues participants were given a list of traits about another person and asked how much they would like that person.

In fact the traits were generated to be broadly representative and people were shown either 4, 6, 8 or 10 of these traits at random.

The results showed that, contrary to their expectations, the more information people had about others the less they liked them.

Norton and colleagues hypothesised that the reason for this finding was that the more people find out about others, the more likely it is a trait will be uncovered to which they take a dislike.

The researchers tested this with participants from the online dating site.

This time, though, instead of using a pre-generated list of traits, each participant was asked to create a list of traits that described themselves – these were then pooled.

Predictably most people chose relatively positive traits.

These traits were then mixed up and randomly allocated in varying numbers and varying orders to participants as though they described a real person.

Effectively, then, people were looking at a random list of relatively positive traits that the group itself had generated.

Again, even with a list of mostly positive traits, people tended to like the ‘person’ described by the shorter lists of traits, further supporting the idea that we like people more who we know less about.

But what the researchers were interested in this time was the effect of similarity on whether we like others.

This is because much previous research has shown that we tend to like other people who are similar to ourselves.

The results showed that what was driving the connection between knowledge and dislike was a lack of similarity.

Effectively the more traits participants knew about another ‘person’, the more likely they were to find dissimilarities with themselves, and so the more likely they were to dislike them.

It gets worse. In a fourth study using a similar approach to those above the researchers found that our dislike for others cascades.

This means that if we see a dissimilar (and therefore unlikeable) trait early on in our relationship with another, this tends to negatively affect the way we perceive the rest of their traits.

So, once we perceive a dissimilarity, it’s all downhill from there.

Even traits we might have liked, or been neutral about before, now get the thumbs down.

For most familiarity breed contempt

Finally, in a fifth study researchers decided to test the evidence from their controlled studies in the real world.

This time members of a dating site were asked either about a potential partner they had met online or someone they were about to meet.

After getting participants to complete a survey they found that, as expected, people knew more about their dates after having met them than before.

For the vast majority of people, though, liking for their dates decreased substantially after they had met them.

On average, knowledge of their date increased from 5 out of 10 pre-date to 6 out of 10 post-date, while liking dropped from 7/10 to 5/10 and perceived similarity dropped from 6/10 to 5/10.

Of course this wasn’t true for everyone – some met other people who they liked more afterwards – but for the majority more knowledge led to apparent dissimilarity which led to less liking.

Hope springs eternal

Considering the results of this study it’s a wonder we bother trying to make friends after the first few disappointments.

The fact that we do is probably a result of an unrealistic level of optimism about how much we will expect to like others.

This is confirmed by the study’s finding that the vast majority of people expect that more knowledge about others will lead to liking when in fact familiarity breeds contempt.

And occasionally we do actually meet people who turn out to be similar to us, who end up as our close friends or even partners.

It’s these relationship hits that we tend to remember when meeting someone new rather than all the times we were disappointed.

As this study shows, on the vast majority of occasions the less we know about someone the more we are inclined to like them because familiarity breeds contempt.

It’s like the fake student in Moreland and Beach’s study, ambiguity allows us to imagine that other people share our world-view, our personality traits or our sense of humour.

Unfortunately as soon as we start to find out more about them, we’re likely to find out how different they are to ourselves and, as a result, to dislike them.

“Hell is other people.” — Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre was right, on average: other people really are hell.

That is, most other people are hell.

There are, of course, a few people we each hold dear, people who do not begin to smell after three days; but these people are the glorious exceptions, so hold on to them tight.

UPDATE: this study has been questioned.

Why Reconnecting With Old Friends Is So Hard — And The Solution (M)

Find out why most people hesitate to revive old friendships, despite longing for connection.

Find out why most people hesitate to revive old friendships, despite longing for connection.

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A Surprising Way To Tell If Someone Is Attracted To You

Both sexes unconsciously do the same thing when they meet someone they are attracted to.

Both sexes unconsciously do the same thing when they meet someone they are attracted to.

Both men and women unconsciously lower their voices when they are attracted to someone, research finds.

Men, in particular, keep their voices low to indicate their interest.

Surprisingly, women also lower their voices when speaking to the most attractive men.

For the study, 30 speed daters met in a café, half men, half women.

The researchers monitored voice pitch and asked everyone who they were attracted to.

The study’s authors explain that men lowered their voice when attracted to a woman:

“…men lowered the minimum pitch of their voices when interacting with women who were overall highly desired by other men.

Men also lowered their mean voice pitch on dates with women they selected as potential mates, particularly those who indicated a mutual preference (matches).

Women also lowered their voice when attracted to a man:

“…although women spoke with a higher and more variable voice pitch toward men they selected as potential mates, women lowered both voice pitch parameters toward men who were most desired by other women and whom they also personally preferred.”

Women, though, were more discerning in their choice: only lowering their voice for the most attractive men.

The study was published in the journal The Royal Society Proceedings B (Pisanski et al., 2018).

The Fake News Effect: How People Develop More Extreme Views (M)

The unsettling truth about how political biases shape what news people choose to believe.

The unsettling truth about how political biases shape what news people choose to believe.

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How Many Hours It Really Takes To Make A Close Friend (M)

Most people complain that a lack of time is the main barrier to making new friends — but how much is really needed?

Most people complain that a lack of time is the main barrier to making new friends -- but how much is really needed?

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This Look Makes You Instantly Trustworthy To Others

The facial features that people rate as more trustworthy might surprise you.

The facial features that people rate as more trustworthy might surprise you.

While people often expect the most attractive people to inspire the most trust in others, this isn’t the case.

Average-looking faces are considered most trustworthy, psychological research finds.

The reason may be down to the ‘typicality’ of an average-looking face.

Dr Carmel Sofer, who led the research, said:

“Face typicality likely indicates familiarity and cultural affiliation — as such, these findings have important implications for understanding social perception, including cross-cultural perceptions and interactions.”

As people’s faces get more distinctive — irrespective of whether it is more or less attractive — it gets less trustworthy.

Dr Sofer said:

“Although face typicality did not matter for attractiveness judgments, it mattered a great deal for trustworthiness judgments.

This effect may have been overlooked, because trustworthiness and attractiveness judgments are generally highly correlated in research.”

The study’s authors write:

“By showing the influence of face typicality on perceived trustworthiness, our findings cast a new light on how face typicality influences social perception.

They highlight the social meaning of the typical face because trustworthiness judgments approximate the general evaluation of faces.”

Dr Sofer said:

“We are interested in how people judge face trustworthiness when visiting other countries and how the locals perceive the visitors.

In addition, we plan to study how face typicality influences trustworthiness judgments, when other factors such as emotional expressions are present.”

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science (Sofer et al., 2014).

The 2 Powerful Bonds That Unite All Of Humanity — Could They Change The World? (M)

The future of humanity depends on dissolving barriers to solve global challenges.

The future of humanity depends on dissolving barriers to solve global challenges.

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The Simplest Way To Make People Like You Instantly

People felt emotionally closer to strangers who did this.

People felt emotionally closer to strangers who did this.

Smiling is one of the best ways to make people instantly like you, research reveals.

However, a smile needs to be real: what psychologists call a ‘Duchenne smile’.

People are highly tuned to the Duchenne smile, which involves upturned lips and crinkly eyes.

Fake smiles are relatively easy to spot and involve only the mouth and not the eyes.

A genuine smile is a strong sign of cooperation and affiliation.

People are generally more aware of positive emotions in other people than negative.

A smile makes people feel emotionally closer to strangers.

Dr Belinda Campos, who led the research, said:

“Our findings provide new evidence of the significance of positive emotions in social settings and highlight the role that positive emotions display in the development of new social connections.

People are highly attuned to the positive emotions of others and can be more attuned to others’ positive emotions than negative emotions.”

For the study, participants watched a video of people interacting and showing both positive and negative emotions.

The results showed that positive emotions are particularly powerful in drawing strangers together.

People felt emotionally closer to strangers who showed positive emotions.

The positive emotion that was particularly attractive was awe.

The study was published in the journal Motivation and Emotion (Campos et al., 2015).

These Forbidden Words Soothe Embarrassment And Rejection

Certain words can reduce both social pain and physical pain.

Certain words can reduce both social pain and physical pain.

Swearing can help to relieve hurt feelings and an aching heart, research has found.

Swearing aloud helps to quickly reduce various types of ‘social distress’ such as being socially excluded.

The experiment was carried out to test ‘Pain Overlap Theory’.

This is the idea that physical pain is processed in a similar way by the brain as social pain, the kind you get from being rejected or embarrassed.

Dr Michael Philipp, the study’s first author, explained the results:

“The results suggest that socially distressed participants who swore out loud experienced less social pain than those who did not.

Previous research suggests that social stressors, like rejection and ostracism, not only feel painful but also increase peoples’ sensitivity to physical pain.

Pain Overlap Theory suggests that social distress feels painful because both social and physical pain is biologically coupled.

Pain overlap theory predicts that anything affecting physical pain should have similar effects on social pain.”

In the study some people shouted out swear words in response to social pain.

Others shouted out non-swear words.

Swearing reduced the social pain and also reduced people’s sensitivity to physical pain.

This suggests that physical and social pain are related, as the theory suggests.

It means the hurt you feel when someone gives you the silent treatment is, in some sense, similar to that caused by banging your thumb with a hammer.

Dr Philipp said:

“There is still speculation about why swearing aloud has the effect it does on physical pain and social pain.

What’s clear is that swearing is not a completely maladaptive reaction to a sore thumb or a broken heart.”

Dr Philipp was also quick to warn that swearing all the time reduces its power.

So save it up for when you really need it.

The study was published in the European Journal of Social Psychology (Phillip et al., 2017).

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