Perception is actually similar to the phenomena we discussed in the previous chapter. You don’t know for sure if it’s true, but you like what you see. That lends credence to the sad truth that we humans are shallow and don’t prefer to think twice. But hey, at least in this book, you are learning to use this to your advantage. The following principles are all instances in which our snap judgment and viewpoints lead to significant psychological perspective shifts. The first perception for us to use to the gain-loss principle, which states that as one person’s opinion of somebody else becomes increasingly favorable, the other person is more likely to develop a more favorable opinion of them in return. In other words, we perceive consistency as boring, and we like a little bit of chase even in platonic friendships.
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As soon as you see somebody whom you are going to interact with, you probably begin sizing them up subconsciously. Do they look friendly or standoffish, anxious or calm, energetic or sluggish, and so on? How are you going to react in kind to that? You’re sizing them up based on a first impression, probably before they even open their mouths.
As the saying goes, first impressions last. For better or worse, they are usually burned into our brains—and even long after the fact, we become our first impressions in people’s minds.
In other words, the way that others perceive you (and vice versa) in those initial encounters can play a significant role in your social success. Your perception of the people you interact with impacts what you think of them, how you approach them, how you feel about them, and the impressions that you give them of you. In turn, this influences how they respond, how they feel, and how they perceive you. The power of the first impression is sometimes shocking in how it can persist in subconscious and sneaky ways.
Putting it another way, we are terrible at hiding what we think. Our thoughts will almost always come out through our behaviors. They may not show on our faces, or through our body language, but they will eventually create a cumulative affect… and again, vice versa. Simply being aware of the role of perception during interactions, therefore, is a valuable skill to find social success.
It’s notable to mention that perception is a completely different thing from reality itself. This just hammers home the point that life is all about what’s on the outside rather than the inner content—perception, marketing, what looks sexy, and first impressions. Let’s use it to our advantage!
Whenever you are reading people’s body language and facial expressions before and during interactions with them, it’s likely that they are doing the same thing with you. The more the other person seems to like you, the more you will probably accept and like them. The colder the other person’s reaction to you, the more you will probably dislike them. That seems quite natural, doesn’t it?
This dynamic is at the center of what’s known as the gain-loss principle, which states that as one person’s opinion of somebody else becomes increasingly favorable, the other person is more likely to develop a more favorable opinion of them in return.
The most dramatic effects of the gain-loss principle can be seen when people begin with an initially negative opinion of someone else, and then at some point transition to a more positive opinion of them for whatever reason. If this were to happen to somebody’s perception of you, it would—more likely than not—result in a similarly positive change in how much you like the other person as well.er conducted an experiment in:
In this case, the confederates were used to manipulate subjects in order to test how much our opinions of others depend upon their opinions of us. The researchers did this by asking the confederates for their opinions of the study participants before and after the confederates had interviewed them, and they did so intentionally within earshot of the participants so that they could overhear.
Afterwards, the participants were asked to fill out a form that included several questions related to their opinions of the confederate whom they had met and overheard talking about them. The results showed that the study subjects tended to like the confederate the most when the confederate had started with a low opinion of them but later reported a better opinion. In the reverse situation, in which the confederate started with a high opinion and then switched to a lower one, the subjects reported that they liked the confederate the least. In both scenarios when the confederate’s opinion didn’t change, the participants had milder opinions of them.
Michael Palmer, Ph.D., states that if a person increases their positive feelings for you, then you are likely to do the same for them, plain and simple. Of course, it’s impossible to completely express these feelings, so we are just taking advantage of people’s perceptions by exhibiting pleasant behavior toward the people we interact with through a positive presence and increased affections whenever appropriate. And if there are people for whom you start out with a negative opinion, switching to a more positive one will have an even greater effect.
An important piece of the study is that the participants learned the confederate’s opinion of them subtly, not through direct compliments or affection. You can take advantage of the same subtlety by making sure that your gossip about friends and acquaintances is positive. In other words, it is important that you spread good opinion, as it will come back to you. If you are always talking people up when they aren’t around, that information can get back to them and automatically give them a more favorable view of you.
When you do want to be more direct, you can take advantage of the gain-loss principle in how you compliment others. For example, you might say, “When I first met you I thought [insert negative/neutral personality trait], but now that I’ve gotten to know you, I can see that you’re actually [insert positive personality trait].” When you compliment a friend in this way, you make them feel that they’ve won you over, which will make them like you more in return. It may seem a bit too on the nose, but the science says otherwise.n-loss principle comes from a:
The team of research psychologists broke the participants—eighty female college students—into pairs in order to perform a task, and then, as with the Aronson and Linder experiment, allowed the students to “overhear” their partners talking about them. However, the researchers had instructed half of the partners on what to say beforehand in order to observe the results. Some students said negative or positive comments both before and after, while others switched from positive to negative and vice versa.
The results indicated that the partners whose comments started negative and then became positive were the most liked, more so than those that were always encouraging. As was the case in the first study, the participants felt the most positively about the people whom they had won over.
One way to think about the findings is that positive impressions only do their magic up to a certain point. Once you reach that point, it is harder to get past it. Definitely, compliments are more effective early on in the interaction with a new person.
So what else can we learn from this study? If you want people to like you, it’s still good to be complimentary sometimes, but be careful not to overdo it. Just make it known that you like them and see them as a friend or ally. Don’t hold them at arm’s length or appear guarded, because they will reciprocate. However, if you are excessively positive or complimentary to the point that you come across as inauthentic or clingy, you likely won’t achieve the social success you’re looking for.
An occasional thoughtful compliment can make someone feel a lot better than consistent shallow compliments—especially if you can contrast it with how you felt negatively about them before, and their actions were so great that you had no choice but to change your mind. Remember, you don’t have to actually like someone, but at least provide the perception that you do.