social media brands as animal characters

Liking, loving and interpersonal sensitivity: The social animal on social media (8)

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[Part 8 of 9: The Social Animal on Social Media, Part 1,
Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7Part 9]

Being liked is one of our fundamental needs as shown in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and also a major topic of research in the field of social psychology where much research has been given over to: How should we behave so people like us more?

The fear of not being liked, or rejected, causes us to conform and sometimes betray ourselves. Sometimes we get aggressive, and other times we need to reduce the cognitive dissonance between what we believe we are like and our actions which have caused suffering either to ourselves or to other people.

Elliot Aronson in his classic text book, The Social Animal, asks: How do we pick our friends? And, says that we pick them for similar beliefs and interests, skills, and abilities and competencies, and quite simply, we pick people who like us.

We also like people who give us maximum good feelings for minimum effort. A recent social media study shows us that when we receive positive feedback about ourselves from Facebook likes, our brain lights up its reward area, the nucleus accumbens, in a way that a money reward does not.

So, it is no wonder many of us spend time on social media in search of validation.

However, if praise is too lavish, we tend to mistrust it, and view it as manipulation. Indeed we saw in Part 5, if someone gets us to do them a favour, we are more likely to like them because we convince ourselves that they are worthy of the favour, even if they are not. This is because it is much easier for us to believe rather than admit that we are chumps who got duped, again. And so, it makes sense that a like or heart is a great reward without having to get involved with people who might want to manipulate us.

Physical attractiveness

We like attractive people because the way they look is an aesthetic reward. Research shows that the anterior insula, the part of our brain which lights up when we eat food or find a life partner, things which are biologically important to us, is also used to appreciate aesthetics.

Many studies show us that attractive people are more likely to succeed in life because we are hard-wired as babies to prefer beautiful people . This is enforced by our culture as we are constantly fed images of beauty from Walt Disney to the American stereotype of beauty with nice white teeth. And we are constantly bombarded by advertising as to what is good and bad and how we should improve ourselves to become more attractive, more likeable.

Consequently we treat people who are more attractive, better, which is known as the halo effect. We assume them to be nicer and more intelligent that they are, simply because they are attractive, which is a self- fulfilling prophesy because when you treat people well they respond well. And, then people who mix with attractive people are viewed as more likeable and more attractive and so we want to be perceived as attractive by attractive people, and be with them.

There are many articles too on how to be more attractive on social media to gain more followers and to become more popular.

It is cyclical. Research show that we are more likely to be attracted to befriending people who share our opinions. We all want attractive and intelligent pals, and if they are like us, they socially validate us.

However, if we perceive that people don’t like us, we are less ready to like them. Even, if we have no proof. Research done by social psychologist, Ray Baumeister, has shown that it is enough to for us to anticipate being rejected, and we will begin to make unhealthy choices and start to believe that we are worth less.

As Aronson says:

The greater our self-doubt and insecurity, the more we like people who like us. The needier we are, the more willing we are to befriend anyone who likes us.

Matthew Liberman, author of Social: Why our brains are wired to connect, says that these feelings of being liked or being rejected are exacerbated by social media which leads to approval seeking anxiety.


So, it makes sense that to reduce our anxiety we don’t want to be friends with people who are perfect. We prefer our people to be human and not too perfect.

Aronson did an experiment where researchers were recorded answering questions. In the first instance they answered the questions perfectly. In the second the same only, at some point they threw coffee down themselves. In the third instance they answered the questions in a mediocre manner. Ditto, the fourth plus the coffee trick.

Everyone preferred number two – smart but still human, which has become known as the pratfall effect. We prefer it when we meet people who are vulnerable. In the same way, we like it when our friends fail as it gives us a holiday from own self-esteem issues.

Gain-Loss Theory

But how do we measure our liking for people? Aronson developed his gain-loss theory to find out, and discovered that we feel more strongly about other people when their liking for us changes. So, if there is an increase or decrease in the rewarding behaviour we receive from another person, it will have more effect on us than if someone constantly likes or dislikes us.

Obviously, we like best of all the people who started out behaving negatively towards us who have changed to behave more positively towards us. Inversely, we like least of all a person who starts out behaving positively towards us and becomes negative towards us. This is often demonstrated by twitter spats between celebrities who go on to become firm friends or deadly enemies.

The triangle of love

How do we fall in love? Apparently, proximity and similarity play a role, whilst psychologist, Robert Steinberg, has defined love in a one-to-one relationship as made up of three factors: Commitment, passion, and intimacy which he calls the triangle of love.

  • Intimacy refers to feelings of closeness and connectedness for the experience of warmth in a loving relationship.
  • Passion refers to romance, physical attraction, and sexual consummation in a loving relationship.
  • Commitment refers to the commitment needed to maintain that love.

Steinberg says that in order to keep love alive, people in long term relationships need to keep all three sides of the triangle going. This means that they must be authentic and work at communicating well with each other.  However, this is difficult to do, given that we are so afraid of rejection.

Our loved ones have the power to really hurt us with their comments in the way that strangers’ comments don’t. Our loved ones can make us feel so vulnerable. Conversely, our loved ones’ compliments do not carry half as much weight a stranger’s compliments, perhaps because our we have heard our loved ones’ compliments before – familiarity, it seems, really does breed contempt.

Professor of Sociology, Brene Brown says that being vulnerable, which she defines as: exposure, risk, uncertainty is our best measure of courage, in whatever area of our lives. People who are willing to be authentic and risk rejection, are those people who live most whole-heartedly, and most happily, without regrets.

Brown say that connection is the reason for our existence and if we want connection then we need to live whole-heartedly, which means that we must be ready to be vulnerable and risk rejection, for it is the only way which will enable us to find our way back to each other.

[Part 9]


  1. Really enjoyed reading this article series. I’ve also read some of the work of Green Brown and found her insights useful, incorporated some of her ideas into one of my articles after hearing her on a podcast interview. Thank you for writing these articles, so well written, communicated and researched. I’ll share them wherever I can.

    1. Thanks John, that is high praise indeed, so nice. Yeah, Brene ‘Green’ Brown – that made me laugh – she does say things which ring so deeply true, and yes especially for Batman who is vulnerable and yet manages to lives authentically part of the time! Mmm – ooh I might yet feel I know something about him to leave a comment on your blog yet. Ruth

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