You Should Stop Being So Hard to Read if You Want People to Like You

It turns out that wearing your heart on your sleeve may not be such a bad idea after all.

New research has revealed that being too hard to read can have a direct affect on your likability – especially when it comes to first impressions.


In a new article in Science of Us, Jesse Singal explores research about people who minimize their outward responses.

As University of Oregon researchers Allison M. Tackman and Sanjay Srivastava told Singal, there are well-established “social costs” involved in hiding how you feel. These include less social support, less satisfying social lives, and difficulty getting close to others.”

What they didn’t know originally was how this worked. So, as researchers do, they set up an experiment.

Four actors watched two scenes from two movies – one funny, one sad – and were instructed to either react normally or hold back. Their reactions were then taped and played for 149 undergrads, who saw all versions. Only sometimes could the undergrads see what the actor was watching.

Upon viewing, the undergrads answered questions regarding their thoughts on these actors’ emotions, personalities, and whether they wanted to ever hang out with them.

The results weren’t great for the introverted set.

As Singal writes, the suppressors were thought to be “less extroverted, less agreeable, and more avoidant in close relationships,” as well as more distant than the non-suppressors. The undergrads were also less inclined to want to affiliate with the suppressors compared to the non-suppressors.

Bluntly, they were seen as a lot less likeable.

“What we found, in a nutshell, is that other people judge suppressors to be low in extraversion and low in agreeableness,” said Srivastava. “Or in more everyday language, they seem like the sort of people who are socially distant and indifferent to others’ feelings. And those impressions help explain why others don’t want to get close to them.”

If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense in the dating world.

Especially on a first date, you naturally take in as many behavioural and social cues from the person across from you as you can. This includes body language, energy, their reactions to what you share, and the conversation in general. By the end of the date, we use these cues to determine whether we’re into it, and if the person is worthy of a second date.

If you return home without feeling like the conversation flowed effortlessly whereby the social cues were complementary (the ideal situation), then you’ll probably consider seeing them again.

Conversely, the lack of an open, comfortable exchange is a total deal breaker. Young professionals don’t have time to waste, after all.

Personally, as someone who can be one of the most readable people on the planet, the suppressing type makes me nervous from the get-go on a date. I inevitably make assumptions about them: He must be self-absorbed, maybe he’s a Patrick Bateman-type sociopath, he’s too socially awkward, he doesn’t know how to connect with others, he’s giving me nothing to work with, I’m bored.


Of course, there are times being an “open book” definitely isn’t a good thing – whether in an important business meeting or during a poker game.

Underscoring this, the researchers did encounter a situation where holding back was a positive thing. As Singal points out, when the undergrads were shown the “funny” orgasm-faking scene in When Harry Met Sally, they viewed the actors who held back their laughter in reaction to the scene as more polite. Meaning, due to the content, it wouldn’t have been tasteful to laugh like a frat boy.

Of course, when it comes to dating, some may hold back in a classic game of playing hard to get and to keep the other guessing. And – while I get not wearing your heart on your sleeve or your keypad the way some do – there’s a fine line between spilling your cards all over the table on a first date and being a total robot.

Because, really, at a time when human interaction is increasingly rare, nobody wants to date a robot.