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“He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not ...”: Uncertainty and Attraction

Are you more likely to be attracted to someone who is into you? Or do you like those that don’t reciprocate your interest? This is one of those cases where your intuitions might be wrong. You need to be cool and downplay your interest in someone to get them to like you, right? Nope; it turns out that there’s a lot of research showing that we tend to like those people who like us right back.

That’s all well and good, but in the real world sometimes it’s not clear how someone feels about you. Maybe they are sending mixed signals or you’re getting conflicting information about their interest from your mutual friends. Or you might not have any idea how they feels about you because you’re too scared to even talk to them. Essentially, what happens when you are uncertain about their feelings about you? Do you like them less or more?

A new paper published in the journal Psychological Science (which is sponsored by the Association for Psychological Science, a.k.a., APS), Whitechurch, Wilson, and Gilbert (researchers at the University of Virginia and Harvard, respectively) tackles this question. In their study they randomly assigned female participants to receive one of three types of feedback from four men who had viewed their Facebook profile. In the first condition, they were told that these men had given them high ratings (i.e., “based on looking at your Facebook profile, these men thought they would really like you”); in the second condition they received lukewarm feedback from these men (i.e., “these men thought they would like you about average”). They were then asked to rate how much they liked these men. Not surprisingly, and consistent with past research, the female participants reported being more attracted to the men who liked them the most.

What about uncertainty? In a third condition, the women were told that they had no information about what these men though about them (“they might have seen your Facebook profile and liked you. Or they might have given you average ratings”). It turns out that the female participants liked these men most of all!

In their additional analyses, the researchers looked at the psychological processes operating along with uncertainty. They note that when we are uncertain we ruminate about things more. In their analysis they show that women receiving uncertain feedback spent more time thinking about their male counterparts, and thus liked them more.

The bottom line, at least for you men out there, is that the lack of information about your interest will turn women on more so than letting her know you like her or don’t. The less information she has about how you feel about her, the more uncertain she will be, the more she’ll think about you, and the more she’ll like you. At some point you’ll probably have to tip your hand and let her know how you feel, but if you can keep her waiting a bit, it might make her more attracted to you. Just don’t be a jerk about it! (that last comment is just an editorial comment, not necessarily something that comes from this research :-)

It’s important to note that all of the participants in this study were female; future work will hopefully see if these results extend to men's attraction to their female suitors as well. But the findings certainly are interesting and have direct implications for those early interactions between partners when they're still gauging each others’ interest.

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Whitchurch, E. R., Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2011). “He loves me, he loves me not...”: Uncertainty can increase romantic attraction. Psychological Science, 22, 172- 175.

Dr. Benjamin Le - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Le's research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships.

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