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Studies reveal behaviors that make people unlikeable

The research isn't all negative.

Ostracized. (LYNN GALLAGHER)

By and large, we'd prefer that people like us. We are who we are, of course, but we can change specific behaviors. So if there's something we do that drives others away, we'd at least like to know what it is. Researchers have put a lot of work into finding out if there are behaviors that universally rub people the wrong way. There are.

We've grouped these behaviors into four categories according to the impression they create, with some overlaps. People who do these things may or may not really be the jerks they seem like, but these are the personalities their behaviors can imply.

How to Seem Like an Egomaniac


When someone acts like they think they're better than you, it's insulting, and who likes being insulted? You don't want to give people the impression that you think a bit too highly of yourself.


The hallmark of someone who wants to boast, but doesn't want to get caught doing it is the humblebrag. Yes, we get that your Tesla is hard to keep clean on your ranch's dusty roads. A study by Harvard Business Review put it this way: “Despite the belief that combining bragging with complaining or humility confers the benefits of each strategy, we find that humblebragging confers the benefits of neither, instead backfiring because it is seen as insincere."

Pestering people about their ethical choices

A study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that we really don't like it when someone criticizes our own moral choices, and we tend not to like them for it. Being chided apparently also hardens our resolve to do things our way. According to co-author Rebecca Reczek, associate professor of marketing at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University, “How ethical or moral you are as a person is an important part of your identity. People have a natural tendency to compare themselves to others. When they do so and find themselves wanting, they feel worse about themselves." As well as the person questioning their ethics.

Correcting people's typos (unless you're an editor or a Big Think reader)

Every writer eventually has issues with the person assigned to be their proofreader or editor, but at least it's that person's job. How do you feel when someone, doing you what they think is a favor, chooses to point out your errors? A University of Michigan study of such people found that they're more likely to be extroverts than introverts, and that being a grammar Nazi may be an indicator that they lack agreeableness altogether. Which is to say, if ths bothers you, leave it alone.

How to Make Others Doubt Your Honesty


There are several common red flags that can make one seem sketchy or untrustworthy. While there can be other, benign, reasons for these behaviors, they still cause people to slowly back away.

Hiding your real self

One of the great tricks for getting along with others is to ask them about their favorite topic: themselves. But taking this too far can get creepy. A University of Illinois study found that mutual self-disclosure works. An interrogation doesn't. According to the study, “Although shy or socially anxious people may ask questions of the other to detract attention from themselves, our research shows that this is not a good strategy for relationship initiation. Both participants in an interaction need to disclose to generate mutual closeness and liking."

Hiding your feelings is also off-putting. A University of Oregon study found that people who suppressed their emotions were perceived as “less extraverted, less agreeable, and more insecure about relationships and that, perhaps as a consequence, perceivers were less interested in affiliating" with them.

Acting suspiciously nice

You want to be a good person. But taking it too far can make people wonder what you're up to, according to a 2010 study from Washington State and the Desert Research Institute. In the study, an experimental game was set up in which players were hidden from each other, free to act more or less selflessly. At the end, subjects were shown other players' actions (some were real, and some computer-generated). They were then asked to rate their desire to team up with individual players again. The most selfless players were rated as negatively as the greediest ones. The researchers concluded that people were suspicious of all that altruism, thinking, “Perhaps this person is lulling us into a false sense of security in order to take advantage of us later."


A study by the University of Zurich found that name-dropping made created the impression the person doing it was manipulative, and adding insult to injury, incompetent. Their 2009 experiment was based on a supposed friendship with tennis great Roger Federer. The stronger the claimed relationship, the less likeable the name-dropper was seen to be.

How to Come Off as Worryingly Desperate


Maybe you are a little desperate to be liked, but showing it can imply low self-esteem, or worse, some valid reason no one likes you.


The University of Illinois study mentioned earlier also found that sharing intimate details about yourself too soon can make the listener uncomfortable, probably because it reveals a lack of care about who's worthy of being trusted with secrets — after all, you've just met. Yes, we know this conflicts with the advice above about mutual self-disclosure, but it's all about balance and timing.

There's an online version of oversharing, too: Posting too many pictures on Facebook. Birmingham Business School did a study of this in 2013. Its lead author, David Houghton, says too many picture posts drive people away because they dilute others' sense of an intimate connection with the poster: “It's worth remembering that the information we post to our 'friends' on Facebook, actually gets viewed by lots of different categories of people: partners; friends; family; colleagues and acquaintances."

Too many Facebook friends

Remember the saying “you can't have too many friends?" Wrong, at least in the case of Facebook friends. “Individuals with too many friends may appear to be focusing too much on Facebook, friending out of desperation rather than popularity," is the finding of a Michigan State University study.

The obvious question is, “Okay, so what's the right number of Facebook friends?" The study says 300.

How to Be Taken for a Fool



While cheery people are generally perceived positively, a study from New York University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Pennsylvania found they're nonetheless often not taken seriously: “Specifically, people perceive very happy individuals to be more naïve than moderately happy individuals. These perceptions reflect the belief that very happy individuals shelter themselves from negative information about the world." If naïveté is annoying to someone, then cheery people are, too. Worse, though, is that the study found, therefore, that bad actors tend to zero in on unusually happy people for exploitation as a result.

Too nervous

We sense that flop sweat doesn't exactly radiate command, and a study by Monell Chemical Senses Center suggests this intuition is correct, with respondents giving low grades for competence, confidence, and trustworthiness to women who — to the noses of participants — gave off the scent of stress-induced sweat.


This one is very specific, but an important one if you're looking for career credibility or a job. According to research by California Institute of Technology, posting a closeup to LinkedIn makes you look like a chucklehead. If you want to look professional, make sure you're 135 centimetres, or about 4.5 feet, away from the lens. People just 45 centimetres, or 1.5 feet, away were rated by the study as less trustworthy, attractive, and competent.

Some Tips for Being Likeable


The research isn't all negative. Here are a few ways to help people see the good person you are.

Get the sharing just right

Once you feel that you and the new friends you're engaging with have reason to trust each other, be sure to give up some personal information. Again, it's about balance. But the American Psychological Association collated data from multiple studies and found that being discreetly self-revealing is a great way to be liked.

Compliment, but with credibility

Everyone enjoys feeling approved of, though indiscriminately lavishing praise doesn't ring true to the recipient. So it pays to be thoughtful before speaking.

It may not even be just a simple matter of saying nice things, but rather one element of a process: A 1965 University of Minnesota study found, interestingly, that receivers of compliments liked the other person best “when her evaluations moved from negative to positive and least when her evaluations moved from positive to negative." It may be that it feels more like a win this way.


A University of Wyoming study found that smiling people are more likable, finding it even more effective than an open body position. Other studies back this up. Interestingly, not all animals respond so positively to the showing of teeth, but we sure do. So work on that pleasant expression, and don't forget the Duchenne smile, smiling with your eyes.

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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
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  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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