The Liking Gap: What It Is And How The Viral Concept Could Change Your Perception

If you're worried about making a bad first impression or convinced that people don't like you, TikTok has some good news: You're not alone. Creators on the social media platform have jumped on a concept called "the liking gap" that suggests those feelings might just be human nature. In a viral video, TikTok user Dellara says, "People like you more than you think they like you." According to the liking gap, Dellara explains, people tend to underestimate how much others like them. Other TikTok users have also devoted clips to the liking gap, many suggesting that we could all be a little easier on ourselves and stop worrying what others think.

Interestingly, the liking gap phenomenon didn't originate on social media. Researchers discovered the concept in a 2018 study published in the journal Psychological Science. In the study, people were asked to judge how much another person liked them, and participants consistently underestimated how positively their acquaintance or friend viewed them. Shy people were found to have an even larger liking gap.

These research findings don't just matter in a lab — they can make a major difference in your personal life, too. 

The liking gap can transform how you socialize with new people

If you go into interactions with strangers or acquaintances expecting them to go badly, your beliefs may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. According to a 2021 study published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, people are less likely to ask for help, offer feedback, and work on group projects when they believe others don't like them. This could stunt budding relationships, which might only fuel more doubt and pessimism in social settings.

Researcher Gus Cooney told Vice that the liking gap may serve the purpose of reminding people to watch for social cues and respond appropriately (like deciding to not tell an offensive joke). But it can become detrimental when paired with a thinking trap like negative filtering, where you overlook the positives in an interaction and become hyper-focused on how awkward you felt or one conversational fumble you made.

Moral of the story: Approach new friendships and relationships knowing that your perception may be skewed and that the other person probably likes you more than it seems. In the end, an optimistic mindset may make small talk with a coworker or chit-chat at a party feel a lot less painful.

The concept might boost your existing friendships, too

When researchers in the 2018 study asked college roommates to rate their feelings for each other at several different points during a school year, they found that a liking gap persisted, except for at the final time point. Translation: The liking gap may diminish as a friendship develops, though it can take time. Throw in a trait like shyness and you might be even less likely to believe your bestie thinks highly of you.

But just like with new relationships, becoming aware of the liking gap could help you make smarter choices in your existing friendships. Psychologist and author of "Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends" Dr. Marisa Franco told Aspen Ideas that the liking gap often leads to people rejecting friends because they think they are being rejected themselves. However, a 2022 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed that friends appreciate our surprise texts more than we realize. Even if it seems like a friend is distancing themself from you, it can help to remember that the liking gap may lead you to believe that the situation is more personal than it truly is.

Of course, there will be times when an old friend doesn't want to reconnect, and that's okay. But by knowing that you're more likable than you thought, you might be able to prevent some valuable friendships from fading.