Psychologists say that people tend to like people who are familiar to them—according to the ‘mere exposure effect’. Canadian psychologist Dr Patrick Keelan explains, “It’s a response built into us as a result of our evolutionary past, when people were more likely to survive if they approached people and other creatures only once they had determined they were nonthreatening.” So schedule regular activities with others, and the more time you spend together, the more you will grow to like each other.
Try a little ‘spontaneous trait transference’. When you talk about another person, listeners unconsciously associate you with the characteristics you’re describing. “So, say positive and pleasant things about friends and colleagues, and you are seen as a nice person,” advises Professor Richard Wiseman in his book 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot.
Harvard neuroscientists Diana Tamir and Jason Mitchell discovered that talking about ourselves triggers the same pleasure chemicals in the brain as food or money. In fact, participants were willing to forgo money in order to talk about themselves! And try specific questions such as, “Have you been involved in any exciting projects recently?” rather than a bland, “How are you?”.
Moods are contagious—and the transmission from one person to another is so instant and subtle that we’re not aware of it, according to Elaine Hatfield, professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii, USA. If you can stay upbeat and positive, people around you will become more upbeat too. And being in sync helps to build emotional rapport.
Who doesn’t like to talk to someone and think, Snap, me too! Scientists call this the ‘similarity-attraction effect’. In a classic study, social psychologist Theodore Newcomb measured participants’ attitudes on controversial subjects before they moved into shared accommodation together. Unsurprisingly, the experiment showed that the housemates with similar attitudes liked each other more.
Self-disclosure can help build a friendship. US researchers put students into pairs with pre-set questions to ask each other. The pairs who were given deeper, more personal questions reported they felt much closer to each other at the end. When you’re getting to know someone, try building up from asking easy questions (like the last book they read) to something more meaningful—such as the people who mean the most to them in life.
An appropriate friendly touch (whether it’s a warm handshake, light touch on the arm or full-on hug) increases the release of the hormone oxytocin, which promotes a sense of trust and a slew of other good feelings that make us feel close to one another.
According to the ‘reciprocity of liking’ phenomenon, when we act like we like someone, they will probably like us back. Researchers at the University of Waterloo and the University of Manitoba in Canada discovered that we behave more warmly when we expect people to accept us—which ups the chances that they really will like us!