The Reciprocity of Liking Rule: I Like You Because You Like Me


“The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.” — Mark Twain

I like you because you like me.

It’s that simple.

Have you ever wondered why that is?

It’s the reciprocity-of-liking rule.

Sure, there are exceptions, but for the most part, we like people that like us.  Once exception to the rule is, if you don’t like yourself, then you won’t like people that like you.

In Social Psychology: Theories, Research, and Applications, Robert S. Feldman writes about why we like and don’t like people.

The Reciprocity of Liking Rule

We tend to like people who like us.

Via Social Psychology:

“… there is a robust general finding regarding reciprocity of liking; we tend to like those who like us.  Given information that another individual likes us, we tend to be attracted to that person. 

The converse seems to hold true as well: when we like someone, we tend to assume that they like us in return (Mettee & Aronson, 1974; Burleson, 1984).”

If you Like Yourself, You’ll Like People That Like You

If you have high self-esteem, you’ll like people that like you.

Via Social Psychology:

“Suppose for instance, that Charlie has high self-esteem, which means, in a fundamental sense, that Charlie likes himself. 

Further, assume that Charlie finds out that someone else (Rachel) likes him.  In order to be consistent, it follows that Charlie will hold positive feelings toward Rachel … This state of affairs produces the reciprocity-of-liking rule.”

If You Dislike Yourself, You’ll Dislike People That Like You

If you have low self-esteem, then you’ll actually reject people that like you.  After all, why should somebody like you, if you don’t like you?

Via Social Psychology:

“But suppose Charlie has low self-esteem, which can be conceptualized as a state of affairs in which Charlie dislikes himself.  If Charlie learns that Rachel likes him, the situation can be in a state of balance only if Charlie decides he dislikes Rachel …

Hence, according to balance theory, people with low self-esteem will not be susceptible to the reciprocity-of-liking rule: they are apt to dislike people they find liking them, since they don’t like themselves — a prediction supported by a fair amount of research (Shrauger, 1975).”

Fake Flattery Will Get You Nowhere

Flattering somebody for an ulterior motive hurts you more than helps.

Via Social Psychology:

“Another exception to the reciprocity-of-liking rule occurs when we suspect people are saying positive things about us to ingratiate themselves. 

Ingratiation is a deliberate effort to gain favor, often through flattery (E.E. Jones, 1964).  If an employee tells the boss how much he likes her, the boss might feel that she is being flattered for an ulterior motive.  Rather than forming a positive opinion of the employee, the boss may resist and begin to dislike the employee.”

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • We like people who like us.
  • We don’t like people who like us, if we have low self-esteem.
  • Be genuine in your praise.  Flattery gets you nowhere fast if there’s an ulterior motive.

I like you.

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  1. Hi J.D.

    I do see a lot of truth is this. We do attract people to us, who are like us, therefore, we like each other.

    I find it interesting how if we dislike ourselves, we dislike others. That explains why some people act the way they do.

    I also agree, fake flattery is a waste of time. We can often see right through it.

  2. Hey Barbara

    I remember wondering why some girls would be with some guys when they treated them like dirt. It clicked. Low self-esteem.

  3. Hi J.D.

    That’s exactly right. And it works for guys who hang with/marry girls who treat them badly, too. What I find interesting though, is that we normally don’t hear people speak of guys having low self esteem. Often it’s “short man syndrome” or something like that.

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