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  • Writer's pictureNay

Nay Says: The Liking Gap In Conversations

Psychologists Eric J. Boothby, Gus Cooney, Gillian M. Sandstorm, and Margaret S. Clark conducted multiple studies to assess whether during conversation, people perceive their conversing partner to like the conversation less than how the conversing partner actually likes the conversation. In other words, the psychologists wanted to see if people underestimate how well a conversation went.

Often, conversation engagement can be a daunting task or lead to anxiety. But, conversations are needed.

The investigators reiterate how previous research found how people frequently do not express their true feelings and intentions in conversations, are afraid of social rejection in conversations, and are challenged cognitively to recognize and retain details throughout conversations. Therefore, from this meta-perception point of view, people infer how they believe their conversations went, and may fall short in their assessment.

Through a series of experiments that included undergraduates and people from the general public, Boothby and colleagues found the following main points:

· There is a liking gap between perceived and actual liking of a conversation.

Though shyness moderated that gap, so the less shy an individual is, the less likely there is to be a gap.

· A third party’s (coder/observer’s) view of the liking of a conversation they are viewing, predicted actual liking and not perceived liking.

· The liking gap may exist, because people recall the more negative aspects of the conversation compared to positive aspects of the conversation.

· In short, medium, and long conversations ranging from 2 minutes to 45 minutes, the liking gap persists.

· Prior to the conversation, people’s prediction of how it will go is often an underestimation, signifying a liking gap again.

· The liking gap persists over time, but eventually dissipates, especially when confronted with having to make mutual experiential decisions.

All in all, people mischaracterize verbal social engagements, such as conversations, but yet they are important to relationship formation.

Nay Says

Boothby and colleagues tackled this subject effectively, making each step an experiment in and of itself. It is worth noting, how they changed some of the material aspects of the experiments, since the earlier sub-studies involved prompt questions, while the latter involved open-ended dialogue, which scientifically was good to see for internal validity purposes. And the variables shyness and narcissism (though not mentioned in this review) were important factors to measure since those factors can affect people’s engagement and perception.

But what makes this entire study so vital, is that conversations are essential to relationships. Think of the relationships you have formed, or the ones you avoided forming, because of your perception of the conversations. It seems as if people need to be more confident and open when speaking with someone else, because no matter how you see it, the other person is likely to see that the conversation went better than you think. So, there is no need to overthink or overanalyze the dialogue that transpired or the dialogue that is about to come. Be you, and let the conversation be what it is. Hopefully, it leads to more conversations and stronger relationships.

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.


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