Science Says You're Making A Better First Impression Than You Think, So Stop Freaking Out

When you go into a party with the friend of a friend, or have dinner with a bunch of people from your new job, it can be difficult to stop yourself from thinking (almost obsessively) about what these new peeps think of you. Yes, we all want to be cooler and more self-assured than to worry and wonder so much about other people's judgments all the time — but, it happens. And learning how to feel confident meeting new people is no small task, especially if you're someone who doesn't enjoy venturing into unfamiliar social situations.

But listen, according to the results of a recent (and very heartening) study, the people you converse with in new social settings usually like you way more than you think they do. In other words, you don't need to agonize so much about whether or not you've made a good first impression when meeting someone new, because chances are, you came off just fine, and there's no need to be so hard on yourself. I don't know about you, but as someone who tends toward the severely self-critical, I am very pleased to hear this.

For the study, which has been published in the scientific journal Psychological Science, researchers set out to gauge the accuracy of people's "meta-perception," which, according to ScienceDaily, is the act of "trying to figure out how other people see us." Erica Boothby, a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University, and Gus Cooney, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University, said in a joint statement,

Our research suggests that accurately estimating how much a new conversation partner likes us — even though this [is] a fundamental part of social life and something we have ample practice with — is a much more difficult task than we imagine.

The study authors call this phenomenon the "liking gap," adding that it can definitely affect your ability to form new relationships with people when you first meet them. After all, why would you put effort into getting to know someone who you assume (probably inaccurately) is judging your personality to be awkward or unlikeable?

As for how the researchers went about figuring out this whole "liking gap" thing, it's pretty interesting. In one part of their study, the researchers paired up volunteers who were strangers to one another and simply told them to have a five-minute conversation with some very run-of-the-mill questions — think: "So, Jim, what do you do?" After they talked, the volunteers responded to a few questions about whether or not they liked their partner, and of course, how much they thought their partner liked them. The questions also asked if they thought their partner noticed the blueberry jam stain on their shirt (just kidding — but aren't you always worried about that, too?).

On the whole, the researchers found that the participants communicated liking their partner a whole lot more than they thought their partner liked them. Again, this means you're basically your own worst critic, and if you're freaking out about the first impression you make on people, there's probably no need to get so worked up about it.

To explore the "liking gap" even further, the researchers also analyzed videos of these experimental conversations, and observed that it seemed like the participants didn't really pick up on behavioral signals that indicated that their conversation partner enjoyed being with them.

In another part of the study, which also included conversations between paired-up strangers, participants reflected afterward on what they felt to be the most important parts of their interactions. According to the results, people always seemed to focus more on what they believed to be the negative parts of the interaction rather than the positive parts. "They seem to be too wrapped up in their own worries about what they should say or did say to see signals of others' liking for them, which observers of the conservations see right away," study co-author Margaret Clark, the John M. Musser Professor of Psychology at Yale University, said in a statement.

So now that you're aware of the "liking gap" and the fact that your own interpretation of your first impression probably isn't that accurate, how can you emerge from being your own worst enemy and feel more confident going into these types of new interactions and relationships? According to counselor and relationship expert David Bennett, part of finding some ease, and even enjoyment, with these things is to fake it 'til you make it — and to practice shutting up all of those judgmental, self-critical voices in your head.

"I encourage my clients to combat 'cognitive distortions' related to meeting new people," Bennett tells Elite Daily over email. "Cognitive distortions are unhelpful and illogical thoughts, and when you meet new people, your brain is sending them out en masse. For example, thoughts like, 'They think I’m weird,' and, 'They won’t bother calling me back,' are two distortions."

Acknowledging that these illogical thoughts are swirling in your head, Bennett explains, and then countering them with more logical and more positive thoughts, can help to build your confidence in these types of social settings. And, really, if you can manage to get out of your own head once in a while when you meet someone new, you might just surprise yourself with how often people like you for just being you.