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Reciprocal liking

Reciprocal liking, also known as reciprocity of attraction[1], is a term used to describe people who tend to like others only if they like them back. Reciprocal liking affects who we find attractive and who we choose to be friends with.[2]


Early StudiesEdit

Studies in psychology show that we like people who like us. Consider an early study in psychology that subtly lets the participants know that a stranger likes them. Elliot Aronson and Phillip Worchel conducted a study in which pairs of research participants had a simple conversation with one another. After the conversation, they privately rated how much they liked their partners.[3] However, one of the participants in each pair wasn’t an actual participant, but instead was someone working with the researchers, acting as a normal participant. In other words, each conversation in the study occurred between a real participant and a trained actor. After their conversation, the participants were instructed to write a brief statement about their reactions to the experiment and their partner. After they had written these statements, the experimenter allowed them to read what their partners wrote. When participants had read that their partners liked them, they then reported liking their partners much more than when they had read that their partners didn’t like them.

Attraction and RelationshipsEdit

Reciprocal liking can have an effect on who we choose to have relationships with, either it being intimate or friendships.[2] According to the reciprocity principle, people tend to favor others who like them back.[4] There have been years of research that have established many principles of attraction, an experiment by Aron and his colleagues (1989) found that most people repeatedly mentioned reciprocal liking, personality, and appearance as factors that influenced them to falling in love. [5]People are naturally attracted to people who express liking for them; simply knowing that someone is attracted to them can induce reciprocal interest.[6] Reciprocal liking can be indicated nonverbally (Grammer, Kruck, and Magnusson 1998) for example, maintaining eye contact or leaning forward can communicate interest. Reciprocal liking and desirability of a person appears to be the most influential when falling in love. [7] Aron et al (1989) reported that in their sample of Canadian college students who recently fell in love, approximately 90% of them mentioned some indicator of thinking that the other person was attracted to them; maintaining eye contact was the most common cue. It has also been shown that people often flatter and praise people whose favor they are trying to win. People even modify their self-presentations to be what the other person is seeking.[8]

We can also see reciprocal liking in schools; for example, peer cultures evaluate their peers' behaviors, relationships, and interactions and then construct their own interpretations. These interpretations peer groups makes are also formed by their own experiences and then judge them by what they have gone through.[9] Students also tend to choose friends that are similar to themselves. There are two psychological reasons as to why this seems to happens: one is social pressure and the other reason is the set of assumptions people tend to make about those who are similar to themselves.[10] Students are often socially pressured to form friendships depending on the persons age, gender, social class, or racial-ethnic lines. [11] Adults and/or parents can also have a great influence on who children can be friends with, by saying that they must select "appropriate" friends who won't teach them bad morals. Social psychologist have also found that most people believe that others who are similar to them will like them more than those who are not, this in return will produce more reciprocal liking among those who are simliar than those who are not.


The person's self-esteem also plays a role. While those with positive self-esteem respond to reciprocal liking, those with negative self-esteem seem to prefer working with people who are critical of them.[12] Nathaniel Branden stated that "self-esteem creates a set of implicit expectations about what is possible and appropriate to us" and continues on to say that the one's "[reality] confirm[s] and strengthen [one's] original belief".[13] This explains why self-esteem plays a role in reciprocal liking: if you can't accept someone likes you, you won't like them back.[14]

Cultural InfluencesEdit

People from different cultures can have an influence on reciprocal liking, since some people take in verbal or nonverbal communication differently. If we take a look at high-context cultures and low-context cultures, we can automatically realize that it can have an impact on how people perceive others depending on how they grew up.[15] In high-context cultures, such as China and Korea, people tend to use vague and ambiguous language, while in a low-context cultures people will be clear and direct in their communication. These two types of cultures can have an affect on reciprocal liking because if these two people were communicating with one another, the person from a low-context culture might believe the person from a high-context culture doesn't like them due to the fact that they are using ambiguous language while speaking. As a result, the person from a low-context culture might end up not liking the other person because they might believe that he or she doesn't like them back.


  1. ^ Eastwick, Paul W. Encyclopedia of Human Relationships. pp. 1333–1336.
  2. ^ a b Trivers, Robert L. "The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism". The Quarterly Review of Biology. 46: 35–57.
  3. ^ "Reciprocal Liking: People Like You More When You Like Them". Social Psych Online. June 6, 2015.
  4. ^ Luo, Shanhong; Zhang, Guangjian (August 2009). "What Leads to Romantic Attraction: Similarity, Reciprocity, Security, or Beauty? Evidence From a Speed-Dating Study". Journal of Personality. 77 (4): 937–939. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2009.00570.x.
  5. ^ Sternberg, Karin (2013). "Cultural Theories of Love". The Psych Series: Psychology of Love 101.
  6. ^ Ponzetti Jr., James J. (2003). "Attraction". International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family.
  7. ^ Vangelisti, Anita L. (2006). "Romantic Love". Cambridge Handbook of Personal Relationships.
  8. ^ Roeckelein, Jon E. (2006). "Love, Theories Of". Elsevier's Dictionary of Psychological Theories.
  9. ^ Bank, Barbara J. (2007). "Peer Cultures and Friendships". Gender and Education: An Encyclopedia.
  10. ^ Vangelisti, Anita L.; Periman, Daniel (2006). "Self-Disclosure in Personal Relationships". Cambridge Handbook of Personal Relationships.
  11. ^ Bank, Barbara J. (2007). "Peer Cultures and Friendships". Gender and Education: An Encyclopedia.
  12. ^ Swann, W. B., Jr., Wenzlaff, R. M., & Tafarodi, R. W. (1992). Depression and the search for negative evaluations: More evidence of the role of self-verification strivings. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 101, 314-371.
  13. ^ Branden, Nethaniel (1994). The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. New York: Bantam Books. p. 14. ISBN 0553374397.
  14. ^ Young, Jeffrey (1994). Reinventing Your Life. New York: Penguin. pp. 211–212. ISBN 0452272041.
  15. ^ Mccornack, Steven; Ortiz, Joseph. Choices and Connections (2nd ed.). pp. 98–100.