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In these two studies, we examined whether the inferences people make about likable and dislikable targets align with the predictions of balance theory. We hypothesized that people exhibit a liking-similarity effect by perceiving greater similarity with a likable person than a dislikable person. To test this hypothesis, we manipulated the likability of a target person and then assessed participants' perceptions of similarity to that target person. In both studies, people rated likable others as more similar to themselves than dislikable others across a variety of domains (e.g., attitudes, personality characteristics, behaviors). In Study 2, individual differences in self-concept clarity, self-esteem, and preference for consistency moderated the liking-similarity effect.
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The Liking-Similarity Effect: Perceptions
of Similarity as a Function of Liking
Brian Collissona & Jennifer L. Howellb
a Marian University
b University of Florida
Accepted author version posted online: 21 Apr 2014.Published
online: 25 Jul 2014.
To cite this article: Brian Collisson & Jennifer L. Howell (2014) The Liking-Similarity Effect:
Perceptions of Similarity as a Function of Liking, The Journal of Social Psychology, 154:5, 384-400,
DOI: 10.1080/00224545.2014.914882
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The Journal of Social Psychology, 154: 384–400, 2014
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 0022-4545 print / 1940-1183 online
DOI: 10.1080/00224545.2014.914882
ARTICLES
The Liking-Similarity Effect: Perceptions of Similarity
as a Function of Liking
BRIAN COLLISSON
Marian University
JENNIFER L. HOWELL
University of Florida
ABSTRACT. In these two studies, we examined whether the inferences people make about likable
and dislikable targets align with the predictions of balance theory. We hypothesized that people
exhibit a liking-similarity effect by perceiving greater similarity with a likable person than a dislikable
person. To test this hypothesis, we manipulated the likability of a target person and then assessed par-
ticipants’ perceptions of similarity to that target person. In both studies, people rated likable others as
more similar to themselves than dislikable others across a variety of domains (e.g., attitudes, person-
ality characteristics, behaviors). In Study 2, individual differences in self-concept clarity, self-esteem,
and preference for consistency moderated the liking-similarity effect.
Keywords: balance theory, impression formation, liking, similarity
PEOPLE ARE INTUITIVE MIND READERS. They can quickly and effortlessly infer what oth-
ers think, intend, desire, and feel (Ames, 2004). Such mind reading allows people to successfully
navigate social situations (Epley & Waytz, 2010) and meet their basic need to understand their
social world (Kagan, 1972).
Research suggests that all people make empathetic inferences about others, a form of “every
day mindreading” (Ickes, 1997,2003). To the extent that people are skilled at making these
inferences (i.e., they are empathetically accurate), they experience positive social outcomes and
well-being (Ickles, 2009). For example, adolescents who are empathetically accurate are better at
psychologically adjusting to challenges (Gleason, Jensen-Campbell, & Ickes, 2009). Moreover,
Address correspondence to Brian Collisson, Marian University, Department of Psychology, 3200 Cold Spring Rd.,
Indianapolis, IN 46202, USA. E-mail: bcollisson@marian.edu
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COLLISSON AND HOWELL 385
empathetic accuracy is related to greater intimate relationship satisfaction and longer relationship
duration among adults (Simpson, Ickles, & Blackstone, 1995). Inferring the thoughts and feelings
of others facilitates social interactions and wellbeing and therefore is an adaptive and ubiquitous
aspect of everyday life (Ickles, 2003).
People’s need to make social inferences is so strong that it extends even to predicting the
behavior of others that they know little or nothing about. People form a variety of impressions
without much social context: Students make inferences about their entire courses on the first
day of class, people make inferences about the long-term potential romantic partners after a
single date, and voters make inferences about a politician’s entire set of values after a single
speech. Research suggests that these judgments may be accurate (Fast & Funder, 2008; Human
& Biesanz, 2011,2012). But, how can people make inferences about another person given little
information about him or her? The answer is simple: they make an educated guess.
Social Projection
When little or nothing is known about another person, people sometimes engage in social projec-
tion to fill in the gaps (Epley & Waytz, 2010). People anchor on their own preferences and traits
and egocentrically infer what others are like (Dawes & Mulford, 1996; Clement and Krueger,
2000; Krueger & Stanke, 2001). People often assume that others are similar to them and thus
think and behave as they personally would. That is, people project their own attitudes, beliefs,
values, and personality traits onto the other person (Ross, Greene, & House, 1977). For instance,
people tend to rate strangers as having similar characteristics as themselves (Human & Biesanz,
2011), especially if they perceive themselves as similar to that stranger (Human & Biesanz, 2012).
Social projection is widespread, and researchers have demonstrated it in a variety of domains
(Caprara, Vecchione, Bararanelli, & Fraley, 2007; Krueger & Clement, 1994; Suls & Wan, 1987;
Weller & Watson, 2009) and for many different targets (see Robbins & Krueger, 2005). However,
there are conditions under which projection is more (or less) likely to occur. For instance, people
tend to project their own preferences and traits onto members of their own ingroups (e.g., same
race, religion, nationality) more than members of outgroups (e.g., Clement & Krueger, 2002).
These findings suggest that peoples’ perceptions of others may affect the extent to which people
project similar traits and attitudes.
Similarity Breeds Liking
The purpose of the present research was to examine whether people perceive greater similarity
with likable others more than unlikable others. The premise for this hypothesis begins with a
vast body of research suggesting that people like others to the extent that those others are simi-
lar to themselves (Montoya, Horton, & Kirchner, 2008). For instance, people tend to like people
who share similar attitudes (Byrne, Bond, & Diamond, 1969), personality traits (Byrne, Griffit, &
Stefaniak, 1967), economic status (Byrne, Clore, Worchel, 1966), and even names or birthdates as
themselves (Jones, Pelham, Carvallo, & Mirenberg, 2004). Just as similarity breeds liking (Byrne,
1961), dissimilarity also breeds disliking (Rosenbaum, 1986). People report less favorable evalu-
ations of people who possess dissimilar values (Rokeach, 1960), beliefs (Chambers, Schlenker, &
Collisson, 2013), and attitudes (Chen & Kenrick, 2002). The effect of (dis)similarity on liking is
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386 THE JOURNAL OF SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY
one of the most robust and consistent findings within social psychology (Byrne, 1997; Montoya,
Horton, & Kirchner, 2008).
One of the prominent theoretical accounts for why people like similar others, and dislike dis-
similar others, is balance theory (Heider, 1958). Balance theory suggests that people want to keep
their cognitions in balance (i.e., they want to achieve cognitive consistency) and do so by regulat-
ing their attitudes. Balance is achieved when people do not feel stress or pressure to change their
attitudes.
To illustrate the central tenets of balance theory, consider the following demonstration. If a
person holds a favorable attitude toward an object (e.g., liking of ice cream) and is aware that a
second person also holds a favorable attitude toward the same object, he or she can create cogni-
tive balance by liking the other person. Also, if one person holds an unfavorable attitude toward
an object (e.g., Sally dislikes broccoli) but learns that a second person holds a favorable attitude
toward the same object (e.g., Sam likes broccoli), he or she can create cognitive balance by dislik-
ing the other person (i.e., Sally dislikes Sam). Stated differently, people can achieve cognitive con-
sistency by liking (disliking) another person who shares similar (dissimilar) attitudes as oneself.
In the scenario described, similarity bred liking. However, balance theory also predicts that
cognitive balance can be achieved by the inferences people make toward a likable or dislikable
person. When people are unaware of the attitudes of a likable (or dislikable) person, people may
perceive similarity (or dissimilarity) with others to facilitate balance (Amodio & Showers, 2005;
Sampson & Insko, 1964; Wyer, 1974). In the same way that similarity breeds liking, liking may
also breed perceived similarity (e.g., if Sally likes Sam she might assumes he, too, dislikes broc-
coli). Similarly, disliking should breed perceived dissimilarity (e.g., if Sally dislikes Sam she
might assume that he likes broccoli).
The Liking-Similarity Effect
We test the hypothesis that people project their attitudes unto likable others more so than unto
dislikable others. That is, because they assume that likable others are similar to them, and
dislikable others are dissimilar to them, people will perceive greater similarity with likable than
dislikable others—a pattern we describe as the liking-similarity effect.
Although the liking-similarity effect has not yet been examined in the psychological litera-
ture, several studies offer indirect evidence of its existence. In one study, participants reported
the degree to which they were similar in personality to their best friend (likable target) and worst
enemy (dislikable target; Weller & Watson 2009). As predicted by the liking-similarity effect,
participants perceived their best friend personality traits as more similar to their own than their
worst enemy’s traits. In another study, participants ranked other members of discussion group
from least to most likable and then judged how similar they were to each member. Illustrating
the liking-similarity effect, group members consistently rated likable members as more simi-
lar to themselves than dislikable members (Horowitz, Lyons, & Perlmutter, 1951). In a similar
design, fraternity members selected the most liked and disliked member of their fraternity and
made inferences about each person. Again, fraternity members perceived the most liked frater-
nity member as more similar to themselves than the most disliked fraternity member (Fiedler,
Warrington, & Blaisdell, 1952). Finally, among married couples, those that were most satisfied in
their relationship (presumably greatly liked) perceived greater similarity with their spouse than
was truly present (Murray, Holmes, Bellavia, Griffin, & Dolderman, 2002).
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COLLISSON AND HOWELL 387
Although findings from these studies provide preliminary evidence for the liking-similarity
effect, they share a common limitation. Participants made inferences about a likable or dislikable
person that they already knew and self-selected. Because similarity breeds liking, perceiving
similarity with a likable (e.g., one’s best friend) person and dissimilarity with a dislikable person
(e.g., one’s worst enemy) is most likely an accurate perception of reality (Watson, Hubbard, &
Wiese, 2000). In these studies, actual similarity is confounded with perceived similarity. The only
exception to this confound is the study of married couples (Murray et al., 2002), which showed
that satisfied couples perceived similarity above and beyond what actually existed.
Still, all studies providing initial evidence for the liking-similarity effect involve ongoing
social relationships (e.g., friends or romantic couples). In such relationships, it is impossible
to disentangle the effect of perceived similarity on liking from the effect of liking on perceived
similarity. For instance, couples that develop greater liking for one another over time may also
begin to notice their similarities. As they notice their similarities, they may develop greater lik-
ing for one another. Here, we attempt to disentangle this multidirectional causality by focusing
on how liking affects the impressions people form about unknown others. That is, we examine
if people perceive a likable stranger to be more similar to themselves than a dislikable stranger.
In doing so, we examine the liking-similarity effect but control for the chicken-and-egg problem
that emerges in ongoing relationships.
Potential Moderators of the Liking-Similarity Effect
Despite the ubiquity of consistency motives (Festinger, 1957; Heider, 1946; Newcomb, 1953),
people differ in the degree to which they think and act consistently, are perceived by others as
consistent, and view others as consistent (Aronson & Festinger, 1958). Some people are espe-
cially motivated to think and behave consistently in an effort to alleviate the stress, tension, and
discomfort associated with inconsistency (Brehm & Cohen, 1962; Carlsmith & Aronson, 1963;
McGuire, 1960; Zajonc, 1960). These individual differences in the importance people place on
achieving and maintaining cognitive balance is termed preference for consistency (Cialdini, Trost,
&Newsom,1995).
Because people with a strong preference for consistency are especially motivated to achieve
cognitive balance, they may be most likely to make inferences about other people that achieve
balance. In line with this hypothesis is evidence that individual differences in people’s preference
for consistency often predict various cognitive balance phenomena (Brown, Asher, & Cialdini,
2005; Cialdini, Trost, & Newsom, 1995; Guadagno & Cialdini, 2010). Consistently, we expect
that people with a strong, as compared to weak, preference for consistency will exhibit a stronger
liking-similarity effect.
In addition to the preference for consistency, the way that an individual feels about him/herself
may also moderate the liking-similarity effect. We expect that people who have high self-esteem
(i.e., who hold positive attitudes toward themselves) will demonstrate the liking-similarity effect
by perceiving likable others as similar and dislikable others as dissimilar. Conversely, people
with low self-esteem (i.e., who hold negative attitude toward themselves) may do the opposite,
achieving balance by perceiving dissimilarity, rather than similarity, with likable targets.
Consistent with this hypothesis, Fritz Heider suggested in his seminal work on balance theory
that people’s attitudes towards themselves (i.e., self-esteem) may affect balance principles. He
suggests that “if [a person] dislikes himself, he might reject a positive [object] as too good for
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388 THE JOURNAL OF SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY
him; a negative [self-perception] and a positive [object] do not make a good unit. ...[Also,] if [a
person] dislikes himself, he might easily think that [another person] dislikes him too” (p. 201).
A final potential moderator of the liking-similarity effect is self-concept clarity. Self-concept
clarity represents the extent to which an individual has a strong, stable, sense of who they are as
a person (Campbell, 1990; Campbell, Trapnell, Heine, Katz, Lavalle, & Lehmanm, 1996). As far
as we know, self-concept clarity has not been investigated as a moderator of either balance theory
or projection. However, it seems likely that for people to project their attitudes and traits onto
others, they may need to first have a clear understanding and knowledge of themselves.
Current Research
We examined the liking-similarity effect while addressing the earlier-discussed limitations of
previous research examining perceptions of similarity in ongoing relationships. In Study 1, par-
ticipants first viewed an interview of a target person whose nonverbal behavior conveyed a likable
or dislikable impression. Participants then made inferences about the likable and dislikable tar-
get’s attitudes in a variety of domains (e.g., political values, personality traits). In Study 2, we
investigated the robustness of this effect by manipulating likability in a different way. Specifically,
participants learned that the target was either generally liked or generally disliked by his/her
peers. Across both studies, we hypothesized that participants would exhibit the liking-similarity
effect by perceiving greater similarity with likable, than dislikable, targets.
Study 2 also examined potential moderators of the liking-similarity effect. Specifically, we
investigated whether self-esteem, preference for consistency, and self-concept clarity moderated
our effects. We expected that people would demonstrate the liking-similarity effect to the extent
that they had high self-esteem, high preference for consistency, and greater self-concept clarity.
STUDY 1
Previous research has demonstrated that people can form liking or disliking evaluations of others
based on nonverbal behavior (Macrae & Quadflieg, 2010). For instance, a person who smiles and
nods frequently, holds a steady gaze, and sits in an open and inviting posture tends to be liked
by others (Bernieri, Gillis, Davis, & Grahe, 1996; Brunswick, 1956;Gifford,1994). Conversely,
a person who behaves in an opposing fashion, such as shaking his or her head, appearing stern
and disinterested, and sitting in a a slouched posture, tends to be disliked by others. In Study 1,
participants made inferences about a target whose nonverbal behavior indicated that he or she
was likable or dislikable.
METHOD
Participants
Participants were 99 undergraduates (57 women, 42 men) participating as part of a research par-
ticipation requirement. Participants’ ages ranged from 18 to 32 years (M=19.1, SD =1.7), and
were ethnically diverse (54% Caucasian, 14% Hispanic, 13% African-American, 10% Asian, 9%
other).
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COLLISSON AND HOWELL 389
Procedure
On arrival at the study, participants completed a questionnaire assessing, in a counterbalanced
order, their political values (Chambers, Baron, & Inman, 2006), personality traits (John &
Srivastava, 1999), attachment styles (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991), and behavioral intentions.
See Table 1 for sample items and response scales for each measure.
After participants completed their self-ratings, they viewed a brief video clip (approximately
thirty seconds) of another participant purportedly interviewed in a related study a few months
prior. The person in the video clip was actually a professional, college-age actor. The audio was
removed from the video and each participant was instructed to make inferences about the actor
based on his or her general impression. To manipulate participants’ liking or disliking evalua-
tion of the actor being interviewed, each actor engaged in either positive or negative nonverbal
behavior. Actors in the likable condition smiled and nodding frequently; actors in the dislikable
condition frowned and had their arms crossed (Bernieri et al., 1996; Brunswick, 1956; Gifford,
1994). Screen shots from the likable and dislikable video clips are shown in Figure 1.
To address stimulus sampling issues (Wells & Windschitl, 1999), six actors (three males, three
females) were filmed for both the likable and dislikable conditions. Each participant saw two
different actors of their same gender—one likable and one dislikeable. The likable and dislikable
actors were presented in counterbalanced order.
After participants viewed the first actor’s interview, they received a blank questionnaire that
contained the same political values, personality trait, attachment style, and behavioral intention
questions that they had completed earlier. Participants were instructed to mark how they thought
the likable or dislikable actor would complete the questionnaire. Participants also indicated how
likable the actor seemed and the degree to which they were similar to the actor in general on an
11-point scale, ranging from 1 (not at all similar)to11(extremely similar).
Next, participants viewed the video clip of the second actor and completed the same question-
naire about the second actor. If participants saw a likable actor first, the second video clip was of
the dislikable actor and vice versa. At the end of the study, participants were thoroughly debriefed
and excused.
TABLE 1
Sample Items and Response Scales for Self and Target Inference Measures
Measure Sample item Response scales
Political values Indicate your feelings or beliefs toward promoting a
strong military and national defense
1(strongly opposed to) to
11 (strongly in favor of)
Personality traits I see myself as someone who is outgoing and sociable. 1 (disagree strongly) to 5
(agree strongly)
Attachment styles It is relatively easy for me to become emotionally close
to others. I am comfortable depending on others and
having others depend on me. I don’t worry about
being alone or having others not accept me.
1(not at all characteristic
of me) to 11 (extremely
characteristic of me)
Behavioral intentions How likely are you to honk at someone that cuts you off
in traffic?
1(extremely unlikely) to 7
(extremely likely)
How likely are you to give change to the homeless?
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390 THE JOURNAL OF SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY
FIGURE 1 Screenshot of actors in the likable and dislikable condition.
Profile Correlation Analyses
We used profile correlations to examine participants’ perceptions of similarity to likable and
dislikable targets (see Furr, 2008). First, we examined their overall perceived similarity, which
was simply the raw correlation between each participant’s ratings of him or herself and his/her
ratings of the likable and dislikable targets. To garner a general understanding of how alike
people saw themselves to their targets, we examined this correlation across all of the items in
all of the domains measured (political values, personality traits, attachment style, and behav-
ioral intentions).1Furr (2008) suggests that overall similarity is the result of two other types
of profiles: one normative and one distinctive. The normative profile is the average of all pro-
files of any single type (e.g., self, dislikable other, likable other). As such, all participants have
the same values for the three normative profiles. In line with the recommendations of Furr’s
(2008)Model 2, we assessed three types of associations related to the normative profile: (a) the
correlation between the normative self profile and the normative likable and dislikable target pro-
files (i.e., generalized normative profiles); (b) the correlation between the normative self profile
and participants’ profiles of the likable and dislikable targets, and (cross-normative profile 1);
(c) the correlation between the normative likable and dislikable target profiles and participants’
individual perceptions of themselves (cross-normative profile 2).
The second element of agreement, the distinctive profile, represents the extent to which an
above- or below-average rating on each item in one profile corresponds with a similar above-
or below-average rating on those same items in another profile. To calculate this relationship,
we first subtracted the normative profile (i.e., the average profile) from each individual profile
(self, likable-target, dislikable-target) to create three distinctive profiles: (a) the distinctive self
profile, representing the extent to which one rated themselves as extreme on each item; (b) the
distinctive likable-target profile, representing the extent to which people rated likable targets as
extreme on each item; and (c) the distinctive dislikable-target profile, representing the extent to
which people rated dislikable targets as extreme on each item. We then correlated the distinctive
self-profile with distinctive likable- and dislikable-target profiles, to assess whether participants
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COLLISSON AND HOWELL 391
who saw themselves as above (or below) average in one trait, also saw their targets as above
(or below) average in that trait. A high positive distinctive profile correlation for a target (e.g., a
likable target) would indicate that a person rated both themselves and that target above (or below)
average on the same items.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Manipulation Check
Participants rated how likable the actors were for both the likable and dislikable conditions. They
also indicated whether or not they knew any of the actors shown in the videos. Results indicated
that the liking manipulation was effective. Participants rated the actor in the likable condition as
more likable (M=9.6, SD =1.2) than the actor in the dislikable condition (M=3.7 SD =1.9),
t(94) =23.17, p<.001, dz =2.4. Five participants were excluded from analyses because they
knew one of the actors or failed the manipulation check by rating the dislikable actor as more
likable than the likable actor.
Projection
Generally, people rated themselves as more similar to the likable target (M=7.2, SD =2.2) than
to the dislikable target (M=4.1, SD =2.6), t(94) =8.53, p<.001, dz =0.88. Did these
perceptions translate into perceiving shared attitudes, cognitions, and behaviors? Before com-
paring correlations between groups, we transformed our correlations to standardized effect sizes
using Fisher’s rto ztransformation. Here, we report the average correlations in the Pearson’s
r metric, for ease of interpretability. However, all inferential statistics are conducted on the
z-transformed effects.
Overall, participants’ self ratings correlated significantly more with likable others (Mr(39) =
.52, SDr(39) =.17) than with dislikable others (Mr(39) =.31, SDr(39) =.22), t(97) =7.83, p<
.001, dz =.22, indicating that, on the whole, people expected that their attitudes, cognitions, and
behaviors were more similar to likable others more than to dislikable others. An examination
of the normative profile correlations revealed that the normative self profile was similarly more
associated with the normative likable target profile, r(Nparticipants =99, Nitems =39) =.90, than
with the normative dislikable target profile, r(Nparticipants =99, Nitems =39) =.662. There was
a greater association between the normative self profile and the raw likable-target profile (Mr(39)
=.66, SDr(39) =.13) than between the normative self profile and the raw dislikable-target profile
(Mr(39) =.42, SDr(39) =.18), t(98) =11.70, p<.001, dz =1.18. Similarly, there was a greater
association between the normative likable-target profile and the raw self-profile (Mr(39) =.62,
SDr(39) =.11) than between the normative dislikable-target profile and the raw self-profile (Mr(39)
=.46, SDr(39) =.12), t(98) =10.86, p<.001, dz =1.09. These correlations indicate that people
tended to rate themselves more like the average likable other and likable targets more like the
average self more so than they tended to rate themselves like the average dislikable other and
dislikable targets more like the average self.
An evaluation of the distinctive correlations revealed that people’s self profiles distinctively
correlated more with likable (Mr(39) =.15, SDr(39) =.25) than with dislikable (Mr(39) =.06,
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392 THE JOURNAL OF SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY
SDr(39) =.27) target profiles, t(97) =2.38, p=.02, dz =.24. This finding suggests that, on
the whole, when people rated themselves above (or below) average on an item, they were also
somewhat more likely to rate likable and dislikable targets above (or below) average on that item.
However, this effect occurred more for likable targets than for dislikable targets, suggesting that
people likely project their own attitudes more unto likable than unto dislikable targets.
In sum, supporting our hypothesis, the results revealed that people rated likable others more
similar to themselves than they rated dislikable others. An examination of the normative and
distinctive components of the profile correlation revealed that this was primarily due to a tendency
for the average self-profile to match the average likable target profile more than the average
dislikable target profile, but was also influenced by people rating targets, particularly likable
targets, above or below average on items on which they also rated themselves above or below
average.
The results of Study 1 suggest that people do exhibit the liking-similarity effect. After people
form a likable or dislikable impression of another person, they perceive general (dis)similarity and
thus project (or fail to project) their individual political values, personality traits, and attachment
styles onto the target.
STUDY 2
Study 2 examined the robustness of the liking-similarity effect by investigating another manipu-
lation of liking: peer evaluations. Study 2 also examined whether chronic individual differences
in self-concept clarity, preference for consistency, and self-esteem moderate the liking-similarity
effect. We expected that people would exhibit a stronger liking-similarity effect to the extent that
they were higher in each of these individual difference domains.
METHOD
Participants
Online respondents (92 men, 144 women) from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (Buhrmester,
Kwang, & Gosling, 2011; Paolacci, Chandler, & Ipeirotis, 2010) participated for a small mone-
tary incentive ($0.26). Participants’ age ranged from 18 to 81 years (M=32.6, SD =12.6). The
majority of the sample was White (75%) with little diversity (10% Asian, 5% Multiracial, 5%
other).
Procedure
Respondents read that they were participating in a follow-up social perception study. Specifically,
participants read:
Researchers at the University of Florida have recently conducted a study in which many members
of the community were interviewed and given a battery of personality tests. Based on each person’s
scores on these tests, two people have been identified. One person has been identified as one of the
most likable people in the sample and the other as one of the most dislikable people in the sample.
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COLLISSON AND HOWELL 393
Participants then received minimal demographic data about each target suggesting that he or she
was of the same gender as themselves. Next, using the same measures as in Study 1, participants
rated themselves and the likable and dislikable targets’ political values (Chambers, Baron, &
Inman, 2006), personality traits (John & Srivastava, 1999), attachment styles (Bartholomew &
Horowitz, 1991), and behavioral intentions. Also as in Study 1, participants indicated how likable
the target seemed and the degree of general similarity they felt with the targets on a 1 to 11 scale.
Participants also completed, in a counterbalanced order, measures of their preference for con-
sistency (Cialdini, Trost, & Newsom, 1995;α=.88), self-esteem (Rosenberg, 1965;α=.82),
and self-concept clarity (Campbell et al., 1996;α=.92).
The preference for consistency measure assesses the degree to which people are motivated
to achieve cognitive consistency and balance. An example item from this scale is, “I want to be
described by others as a stable and predictable person.” Rosenberg’s (1965) self-esteem scale
measures trait level self-esteem. A sample item is, “On the whole, I am satisfied with myself.”
Lastly, the self-concept clarity scale assesses people’s knowledge and understanding of them-
selves. A prototypical item from this measure is, “In general, I have a clear sense of who I am
and what I am.”
Analysis
As in Study 1, we used profile correlations to examine participant attitude and trait projection.
Specifically, we evaluated raw, distinctive, and normative profile correlations to better understand
the factors underlying this projection.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Manipulation Check
As in Study 1, participants rated the likable target (M=9.1, SD =1.9) as more likable than the
dislikable target (M=3.4, SD =2.5), t(201) =21.28, p<.001, dz =1.50.
Projection
As in Study 1, people rated themselves as more similar to the likable target (M=7.2, SD =
2.4) than to the dislikable target (M=3.5, SD =2.7), t(198) =12.57, p<.001, dz =0.89.
Additionally, participants’ self ratings correlated significantly more with likable others (Mr(34) =
.59, SDr(34) =.26) than with dislikable others (Mr(34) =.17, SDr(34) =.34), t(202) =5.64, p<
.001, dz =0.40, indicating that, on the whole, people expected that their attitudes, cognitions,
and behaviors were more similar to likable others more than to dislikable others.
An examination of the normative profile correlations revealed that the normative self pro-
file was similarly more associated with the normative likable target profile, r(Nparticipants =237,
Nitems =34) =.94, than with the normative dislikable target profile, r(Nparticipants =237, Nitems =
34) =.54. There was a greater association between the normative self profile and the raw likable-
target profile (Mr(34) =.66, SDr(34) =.15) than between the normative self profile and the raw
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394 THE JOURNAL OF SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY
dislikable-target profile (Mr(34) =.31, SDr(34) =.23), t(98) =18.49, p<.001, dz =1.28.
Similarly, there was a greater association between the normative likable-target profile and the
raw self-profile (Mr(34) =.61, SDr(34) =.15) than between the normative dislikable-target profile
and the raw self-profile (Mr(34) =.36, SDr(34) =.17), t(203) =14.52, p<.001, dz =1.02. These
correlations indicate that people tended to rate themselves more like the average likable other and
likable targets more like the average self more so than they tended to rate themselves like the
average dislikable other and dislikable targets more like the average self.
An evaluation of the distinctive correlations revealed that people’s self profiles distinctively
correlated positively with likable target profiles (Mr(34) =.33, SDr(34) =.33) but negatively with
dislikable target profiles (Mr(34) =–.07, SDr(34) =.34), t(202) =10.04, p<.001, dz =.70. This
finding suggests that when people rated themselves above (or below) average on an item they
rated likable targets similarly above (or below) average on that item. By contrast, when they rated
themselves above average on an item, they tended to rate dislikable targets below average on that
item.
In sum, providing a conceptual replication of Study 1, the results of Study 2 revealed that peo-
ple rated likable others more similar to themselves than they rated dislikable others and that these
perceptions translated into greater projection unto likable targets than unto dislikable targets.
Individual Differences
Study 2 aimed to extend beyond Study 1 by examining whether individual differences (i.e., pref-
erence for consistency, self-esteem, and self-concept clarity) predict the liking-similarity effect.
To test this hypothesis, Judd, Kenny, & McClelland’s (2001) recommendations for within-persons
moderation were used. Specifically, we predicted the raw and distinctive with the three individual
difference measures.
Surprisingly, only self-concept clarity significantly predicted both raw and distinctive profile
correlations. Specifically, people with a clearer self-concept exhibited a greater discrepancy in
both the raw, r(201) =.17, p=.02, and distinctive, r(201) =.17, p=.02, self /likable-target
and self/dislikable-target correlation discrepancy. This indicates that greater self-concept clarity
was associated with a greater exhibition of the liking-similarity effect.
Self-esteem was not significantly related to the raw profile correlation discrepancy r(201)
=.13, p=.07, or to the distinctive profile correlation discrepancy, r(201) =.08, p=.27.
Additionally, preference for consistency was unrelated to raw discrepancy, r(201) =.09, p=
.21, and to distinctive r(201) =.12, p=.10 discrepancy.
DISCUSSION
To predict and understand a social world, people must infer the thoughts and feelings of other
people on a variety of topics (Ames, 2004). The current research demonstrated that the infer-
ences people make about likable and dislikable others are predictable. People consistently
perceived that a likable person was more similar to themselves than a dislikable person, a robust
phenomenon we refer to as the liking-similarity effect.
Across both studies, participants were asked to infer two target persons’ political values, per-
sonality traits, attachment styles, and behavioral intentions after viewing their nonverbal behavior.
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COLLISSON AND HOWELL 395
In both studies we varied how likable or dislikable each target was. In Study 1, we varied the tar-
get persons’ nonverbal behavior to create the impression that he or she was likable or dislikable.
Likable targets smiled, appeared engaged, and seemed like a generally likable person. Dislikable
targets, however, frowned, sat with their arms crossed, and seemed like a generally dislikable per-
son. In Study 2, participants received second-hand knowledge that a target person was likable or
dislikable. Regardless of how participants formed the liking or disliking evaluation of the target
person, their inferences were similar: people inferred that a likable target was more similar to
themselves than a dislikable target.
Study 2 illustrated that individual differences may moderate the liking-similarity effect.
Specifically, people who had high self-concept clarity were more likely to demonstrate the liking-
similarity effect both generally and by rating likable others as extreme on the traits they saw
themselves as extreme on. Self-esteem and preference for consistency did not predict the liking-
similarity effect. There was a small relationship between these individual difference measures and
the liking-similarity effect. However, further evidence is needed before interpreting self-esteem
and preference for consistency in regard to the liking-similarity effect.
The liking-similarity effect contributes to social psychological theory in a number of differ-
ent ways. First, it extends classic research on balance theory (Heider, 1958). In the early 1960s,
balance theory was used to explain one of social psychology’s most robust phenomenon: the
similarity-liking effect (Byrne, 1961; Montoya, Horton, & Kirchner, 2008). According to this
effect, people like others who share similar values as themselves. In the same vein, the current
research now uses balance theory to explain the liking-similarity effect. That is, people perceive
greater similarity with likable others than dislikable others. Second, the liking-similarity effect
extends research on perceived similarity within close relationships. Numerous studies reveal that
people perceive greater similarity with their best friends (Weller & Watson, 2009) and romantic
partners (Morry, 2005;2007; Morry, Kito, & Ortiz, 2011) than actually exists. Because these
relationships are self-selected and ongoing, it is impossible to distinguish the effect of liking on
perceived similarity. However, the liking-similarity effect reveals that even when making infer-
ences about a novel target person, a likable first impression breeds greater perceived similarity
than a dislikable first impression.
Limitations
The present study is limited in that we examined the present effects using within-subjects designs.
We did so because we wanted to specifically examine whether individuals projected more unto
likable others than unto dislikable others. Our primary interest was not in how people perceived
others, but rather in how likely they were to project their attitudes, cognitions, and behaviors onto
likable versus dislikable others. As such, a within-subjects test provided a more sensitive and
rational test of our hypothesis. Nevertheless, using a within-subjects design may make partici-
pants particularly susceptible to demand characteristics if they recognize the true nature of the
study. An examination of the data suggests that this is likely not an issue.3Nevertheless, future
studies are necessary to examine the robustness of the liking-similarity effect between-subjects.
Another limitation of the present work is the number of individual difference measures
included in Study 2. There may be more individual difference moderators of the liking-similarity
effect besides preference for consistency, self-esteem, and self-concept clarity. For instance, indi-
vidual differences related to cognitive structure, self-monitoring, or need for affiliation may be
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396 THE JOURNAL OF SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY
related to how similar people perceive likable and dislikable others. Future research studies that
further address such individual difference moderators may be a fruitful avenue for future research.
Implications and Future Directions
Despite limitations, the results of the present study provide promising implications. First, the
present research is the first to suggest that balance theory might apply to judgments of similar-
ity. The majority of work has evaluated whether people evaluate likable others as more similar
to themselves than dislikable others (e.g., Amodio & Showers, 2005; Sampson & Insko, 1964;
Wyer, 1974). The present work turns this notion on its head and demonstrates that likability can
breed perceptions of similarity. In this way, we suggest that liking and similarity likely have a
reciprocal relationship. The nature of this reciprocal relationship can be investigated better in
future, longitudinal studies, which can evaluate whether liking may breed perceived similarity,
which, in turn, may result in greater liking.
Another implication of the liking-similarity effect is its real-world applicability to
other areas of study, such as industrial/organizational psychology or political science.
Industrial/organizational psychologists may find that interviewers infer, rather than fully know,
that (dis)likable job applicants share (dis)similar attitudes toward work than themselves. Political
scientists may advise candidates to establish a likable personality more than political trans-
parency. According to the liking-similarity effect, people may assume that likable politicians
share their political values. Additional research that applies the liking-similarity effect is needed.
Conclusion
In sum, the liking-similarity effect is a reliable, predictable, and robust phenomenon. People con-
sistently perceive greater similarity with likable others than dislikable others. In Study 1, people
achieved cognitive balance by perceiving greater similarity with a person who portrayed a likable,
rather than dislikable, first impression. In Study 2, the liking-similarity effect was replicated using
second-hand evaluations of a person’s likable or dislikable nature. Furthermore, Study 2 revealed
that people who know themselves well (i.e., those high in self-concept clarity) exhibited the
greatest liking-similarity effect. These findings fit well with classic research on balance theory
and suggest that the social inferences people make about likable and dislikable targets create and
maintain cognitive balance.
NOTES
1. We did not analyze the four profiles (political values, personality traits, attachment style, and behavioral intentions)
separately for three reasons: (a) We hypothesized that people would generally rate likable others more similar to
themselves than they would dislikable others, but did not have hypotheses that this would be stronger or weaker in
any single domain. (b) Profile correlations are more robust to the extent that they are assessed across multiple items.
Just as one can better trust a correlation observed in 40 participants than one observed in four participants, one can
better trust a profile correlation observed across 40 items than one observed across four items. (c) Examining profile
correlations across all items prevented the inflation of Type 1 error that would have resulted from examining four
separate sets of items.
2. As mentioned earlier, all generalized normative profiles are comprised of the average profile of one type (i.e., self,
dislikable target, likable target), as such there is no variance in these correlations.
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COLLISSON AND HOWELL 397
3. When we split the sample in Study 2 in half and examine only the target that each participant evaluated first, our
results replicate between subjects. Specifically, those who evaluated the likable individual projected both raw (Mz(34)
=.74, SDz(34) =.48) and distinctive (Mz(34) =.52, SDz(34) =1.79) profiles more than those who evaluated a dislikable
individual projected their raw (Mz(34) =.07, SDz(34) =.34) and distinctive (Mz(34) =–.16, SDz(34) =.33) profiles,
ts(202) >3.78, ps <.001.
FUNDING
This work was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship
awarded to Jennifer L. Howell under grant no. DGE-0802270.
AUTHOR NOTES
Brian Collisson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology, Marian University. Jennifer L. Howell
is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Psychology, University of Florida.
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Received August 21, 2013
Accepted April 9, 2014
Downloaded by [University of Florida] at 14:13 17 September 2014
... Therefore, similarity can determine likeability on account of a person's desire to achieve cognitive consistency by liking (disliking) another individual who shares similar (dissimilar) attitudes as themselves. However, balance theory also works in conjunction with the liking-similarity effect (Collisson and Howell, 2014), which conjecture that one can maintain cognitive balance by making inferences about a likable or dislikable person (Collisson and Howell, 2014). Stated differently, if an individual happens to like (dislike) another person, they are more likely to perceive more similarity (dissimilarity) between them. ...
... Therefore, similarity can determine likeability on account of a person's desire to achieve cognitive consistency by liking (disliking) another individual who shares similar (dissimilar) attitudes as themselves. However, balance theory also works in conjunction with the liking-similarity effect (Collisson and Howell, 2014), which conjecture that one can maintain cognitive balance by making inferences about a likable or dislikable person (Collisson and Howell, 2014). Stated differently, if an individual happens to like (dislike) another person, they are more likely to perceive more similarity (dissimilarity) between them. ...
... Considering agent likeability as a precursor to fostering reconciliation and reducing retaliation, interactional justice perceptions may depend on the perceived likeability of an agent. According to balance theory and the liking-similarity effect, likeability increases perceived similarity between an employee and customer (Collisson and Howell, 2014). Additionally, a customer might perceive a likable agent as having more common grounds, hence revitalizing the interactions (Reysen, 2005). ...
Purpose This study aims to examine the effects of likeability of service agents on perceived justice and reconciliation and retaliation as consequences of service failures, taking into consideration the conflict resolution styles that is showing empathy and issuing an apology. Design/methodology/approach An online survey was administered to 630 residents in the United States. The participants were US residents, had experienced a service failure in the prior six months and had complained either in person or by phone call. Findings It was found that likeability had a positive effect on both reconciliation and retaliation. Given the likeability of the service agent, interactional justice mitigated retaliation, whereas distributive justice enhanced reconciliation. Furthermore, when a service agent displays a high level of empathy and apology, the positive effect of likeability on distributive justice is intensified. Originality/value This study extends the current knowledge concerning the effects of likeability in service recovery by offering a comprehensive framework and practical implications for managers to restore business relationships following a service failure.
... According to Collisson and Howell (2014), people tend to think that likable others are more similar to themselves than those who are unlikeable. The study also reveals that participants find the likable person to be more similar to themselves than the dislikeable person. ...
... Overall, it was found that likeability was one of the strongest predictors for parasocial interaction which is in line with the findings from previous studies (Collisson and Howell, 2014;Reyson, 2005, p. 201;Cialdini, 1993). As expected, PSI was developed for both groups (familiar vs. unfamiliar model), but the effects were stronger with the posting that featured the familiar celebrity rather than the unfamiliar model. ...
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The effectiveness of celebrity influencers on consumers’ responses in social media ads is under-explored yet critical for marketers to practice better communication strategies to young Instagram users. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to examine how young Instagram users (e.g., generation Z and millennials) establish consumer-brand relationships (i.e., parasocial interaction, related closeness) through perceived values toward an Instagram ad (i.e., similarity/likability, perceived interactivity, exposure/openness), especially between familiar versus unfamiliar models. Through the lens of Parasocial Interaction Theory, relationship strength is differentiated depending on types of content, thus this study scrutinizes the effects of the relationship between consumers and familiarity of models on positive relationship building and the variables associated with and influence that relationship. An online survey of 274 Instagram users was conducted via Amazon Mturk. Data analyses were conducted, using SPSS 25.0 and a multigroup structural equation modeling was utilized, using AMOS 22.0, to test the suggested relationships. The study findings provide insights to marketers on how to practice better social media marketing strategies by collaborating with influencers/celebrities and exhibit effective and relevant marketing campaigns to targeted audiences. Our study results confirmed likeability as one of the strongest predictors for parasocial interaction which is in line with the findings from previous studies regarding Parasocial Interaction Theory. Though openness was addressed and confirmed as one of critical factors that lead consumers’ PSI, our finding demonstrates that importance of openness matters for only familiar models. Future research is explored.
... People strive to be liked by others in everyday life, and likability plays an obvious and fundamental role in multiple key life domains, such as social (Collisson & Howell, 2014) and ...
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People strive to be liked by others, and likability has profound effects on various life domains such as relationships and career success. Eight experiments (seven preregistered; total N = 2587) involving Western and Asian samples show that people providing ambiguous (i.e., vague, imprecise) responses to questions are seen as less likable compared to those who provide responses that are specific or precise. This phenomenon was consistently observed across multiple scenarios from family, stranger, and coworker conversations to politician interviews and first dates. This is because response ambiguity is interpreted as a way to conceal the truth, and sometimes as a sign of social disinterest. Consequently, people reported a lower inclination to befriend or date others who responded to their questions ambiguously. We also identified situations in which response ambiguity does not harm likability, such as when the questions are sensitive and the responder may need to “soften the blow”. A final exploratory study (n = 389) showed that beyond likability, response ambiguity also impacts personality trait perceptions such that responders providing ambiguous answers are judged as less warm and extraverted, but also less gullible and more cautious. We discuss theoretical implications for the language psychology and person perception literatures. Given that response ambiguity is a controllable and ever-present feature of conversations, and given the potential reputational and social consequences that come with insufficient response precision, practical implications of the present research are also discussed.
... Thus, all things equal, it is an asset to be liked, especially when followers have the power to influence leader outcomes, such as promotion, productivity, and compensation. Social psychological research suggests that similarity breeds liking (Byrne, 1961;Collisson & Howell, 2014), so leaders who wish to be evaluated favorably should seek opportunities to demonstrate similarities in the interests, attitudes, and personality of their followers (Montoya et al., 2008). ...
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In the current series of studies, we draw upon implicit leadership theories, social learning theory, and research on decision making to investigate whether affect toward President Trump explains U.S. residents' evaluations of his leadership during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as the likelihood that that residents engage in personal protective behaviors. A meta-analysis using 17 nationally representative datasets with a total of 26,876 participants indicated that participants who approve of President Trump tend to approve of his leadership regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and were less likely to engage in personal protective behavior (PPBs; i.e., hand washing, wearing a mask or other face covering in public, and social distancing). On the other hand, those disapproving of President Trump also tended to disapprove of his leadership during the COVID-19 crisis and were more likely to engage in PPBs. In a second study, using an established measure of leader affect (leader affect questionnaire) and controlling for political party, we replicated and extended these results by demonstrating that expending cognitive effort toward understanding the COVID-19 crisis attenuated the relationship between affect toward President Trump and (1) approval of his leadership during the COVID-19 crisis and (2) engagement in some, but not all, PPBs.
... Negative network connections can be expected to cause problems within the organization. For example, there may be situations such as loveless and rude behaviors of some employees towards others due to their high self-esteem levels (Collisson & Howel, 2014). The negativities between network connections are shaped according to the mutual interaction of the parties, but they do not always contain a complete opposition. ...
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Purpose This paper aims to examine whether brands derive their personalities from their culture of origin, the stereotypes about their cultures of their origin or the cultures of their buyers. It also examines which of a culture’s personality traits are more transmittable to brand personalities (BPs), as well as the consequences of the BP resemblance to the personalities of the brand’s culture of origin and consumers’ culture on BP’s clarity and consumer attachment to the brand. Design/methodology/approach Hypotheses were developed and tested on survey data from a sample figure of 1,116 US consumers of luxury brands on 23 luxury brands originating from France, the USA, Britain, Italy and Germany. Trait by trait and personality profile analyses were performed using hierarchical model analysis (linear mixed effects models) and Cattell’s (1969) pattern similarity coefficient. Findings The culture of a brand’s origin accounts for differences of different brands personalities. The personality profiles of a country’s brands are distinct from the BP profiles of brands from other countries. The conscientiousness trait of a culture is the most transmittable to BPs. BPs derive their characteristics from stereotypes of a culture’s personality than the actual personality of the culture. The assimilation of a brand’s personality to consumer’s culture is not supported. The similarity of a BP to both real and stereotypical personality of the culture of the brand’s origin enhance perceived clarity of the BP. Research limitations/implications The study’s focus is limited to established luxury brands coming from countries that are the traditional producers of luxuries. Empirical evidence also comes only from American consumers of luxury brands. New luxury brands from countries that have recently emerged as luxury producers need to be included. Practical implications Brands retain a significant space to differentiate their personalities beyond the influence of their culture of origin on BPs. With the exception of conscientiousness, personality traits of culture are not automatically inherited or transmitted to the brands. Cultural stereotypes find their way into BPs easier than real personality traits and managers should focus on them. BP matching with the personality of a culture is a good way for managers to increase the perceived clarity of their brands’ personality. Originality/value To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this study is the first to examine the culture’s influence on BP using a compatible to the BP construct cultural framework, McCrae and Terracciano’s (2005a) personality of a culture framework. Three cultural meaning transfer processes are examined (cultural inheritance, cultural stereotyping and acculturation to the consumer’s culture) within the same study from a trait-by-trait and a configurational (i.e. personality profile) perspective. The consequences of BP similarity to the brand’s culture of origin as well as consumer’s culture on the BP’s appeal are also assessed.
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How are accuracy and assumed similarity associated in first impressions of personality? In a large-scale video perception study, accuracy and assumed similarity were strongly negatively associated across traits, consistent with past research (e.g., Beer & Watson, 2008). However, across perceivers and perceiver–target dyads, the ability to perceive others accurately was independent of the tendency to assume similarity with others. Thus, viewing others in general or specific others as overly similar to the self does not imply viewing them inaccurately. In sum, accuracy and assumed similarity are inversely related when examined across traits but are independent across perceivers and dyads.