Why Do We Like Others?

Why We Dislike and Like Each Other

In our lives, we come to like and dislike people on a routine basis. We will at times like our co-workers while we dislike our classmates, and at yet other times like our classmates and dislike our co-workers. 

We like and dislike so many people on such different and whimsical grounds that one must wonder as to what forces of nature lead us to be so whimsical and diverse. 

Rather than guess wildly into the dark as those who came before us had, we are lucky enough to live in times where social psychology has substantive evidence for the appetites of our curiosity. 

What determines liking, and what determines disliking are no longer shrouded in mystery.

What Determines Liking?

We all want to know how to get someone to like us. We all want to know how to get others to like us to such a great degree that we all read “how to win friends and influence people”. 

We read about all the tips and tricks to encourage others to like us: remember birthdays, be kind and polite, listen to people when they speak. But those tips and tricks are not all that necessary when we are similar to the people we are trying to influence.

Humans prefer, for both friendship and mates, people who are similar not only in appearance, but also in attitude, behaviour, and belief. 

Young children often have friends which we adults are a bit confused about. Children at the age of 2 or 3 befriend strange objects and animals. They talk with their toys, and they tell us about their adventures with the stuffed pillow on the couch. But as children grow up, they do that less so, and eventually they stop making friends with weird objects, entirely. 

The reason why that is relates to cognitive development. Researchers have found children beneath the age of four are more likely to befriend those who look nothing like themselves; however, children near the age of five or older are more likely to befriend something or someone which looks more akin to themselves(Sanefuji, W., 2013).

And when we look at children with already established friendships, usually above the age of four, we find that these children have similar attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs as well(Byrne, D., 1971; Newcomb, T. M., 1961); which is to say, they are similar already.

And even in adults, the same pattern emerges: similarity in appearance, beliefs, values, attitudes, and behaviours determines liking.

When we measure the individual personality traits of a group of people, and then place them into living space together, we can predict, with greater than chance accuracy, who will like each other and who will dislike each other (Griffitt & Veicht, 1974). Those who hold similar beliefs will like one another, and those who hold dissimilar beliefs will dislike one another.

Furthermore, when we look at college roommates, what we find is that those who have similar personalities and values likewise developed stronger friendships than their comparable counterparts. Meaning, roommates who have different personalities and values do not develop friendships nearly as strong, if at all, as those who have similar personalities and values (Lee & Bond, 2002). So our choice of friends is not as conscious and deliberate as we think.

Neither is the choice of how much we tip. Researchers have also found that similarity effects play a role in tipping behaviour; more specifically, mimicry can lead us to tip more. When waiters are instructed to mimic the customers body language, the customer indeed tips more than usual (Baaren et al., 2003). So when others behave like we do, we tend to be kinder and offer more to them: similarity begets liking.

To really drive this point home, people prefer similar mates. They do not want the most beautiful, the richest, or the healthiest mates; they want the most similar mate (Buston, 2003). Why? Because similarity leads to liking.

So, when it comes to making friends and influencing people, we are most likely going to influence and befriend those who are already similar to who we are. Similar in physical appearance, similar in personality, similar in belief, and similar in behaviour.

Now you might have guessed this already, but as similarity leads to liking, dissimilarity leads to disliking.

What Determines Disliking?

Someone being different than us does not necessarily lead to disliking, but when we dislike someone, it is almost inevitably the case that they are dissimilar to us in many regards.

For example, when someone holds a strong moral conviction which is different than ours will more than likely lead us to dislike them. That is, when someone is pro-abortion, and we happen to be anti-abortion, and we both believe these views strongly, we will most likely dislike the person with the opposing moral conviction (Skitka et al., 2005).

Dissimilar attitudes have a similar yet stronger impact than that as well.

Dissimilar attitudes lead to disliking more often than similar attitudes lead to liking; dissimilarity is much stronger than similarity (Singh et al., 1992). In fact, dissimilarity is so powerful that the perception of someone merely having a dissimilar attitude makes it far more difficult for us to like said person (Collison et al., 2014).

So, as similarity leads to liking, dissimilarity leads to disliking. 


The point herein is that we do not look for similarity and dissimilarity on a conscious level; we unconsciously and automatically assess the similarity and dissimilarity in personality and beliefs. When someone utters something which we find completely contentious, even if briefly, we will unconsciously note that down and rely on that piece of information to determine their dissimilarity or similarity to us. If someone behaves in a manner which we find objectionable, we will make note of that and unconsciously place it in the dissimilarity bucket. 

We are not as in control of, in the free will sense, who we befriend and who we disdain as we think. There are many unconscious processes which determine who we befriend and who we disdain.

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Ideasinhat is a business development analyst and longtime reader of academic literature. He writes books and essays on science and philosophy, and posts them to this website. The essays, as with the books, cover topics from psychology, philosophy, and cognitive science to economics, politics, and law.

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