It’s hard to say exactly why you like someone.
Maybe it’s their goofy smile; maybe it’s their razor-sharp wit; or maybe it’s simply that they’re easy to be around.
But scientists generally aren’t satisfied with answers like that, and they’ve spent years trying to pinpoint the exact factors that draw one person to another.
Below, we’ve rounded up some of their most intriguing findings. Read on for insights that will cast your current friendships in a new light — and will help you form better relationships, faster.
1. Copy the person you’re with
This strategy is called mirroring, and involves subtly mimicking another person’s behavior. When talking to someone, try copying their body language, gestures, and facial expressions.
In 1999, New York University researchers documented the “chameleon effect”, which occurs when people unconsciously mimic each other’s behavior. That mimicry facilitates liking.
Researchers had 72 men and women work on a task with a partner. The partners (who worked for the researchers) either mimicked the other participant’s behavior or didn’t, while researchers videotaped the interactions. At the end of the interaction, the researchers had participants indicate how much they liked their partners.
Sure enough, participants were more likely to say that they liked their partner when their partner had been mimicking their behavior.
2. Compliment other people
People will associate the adjectives you use to describe other people with your personality. This phenomenon is called spontaneous trait transference.
If you describe someone else as genuine and kind, people will also associate you with those qualities. The reverse is also true: If you are constantly trashing people behind their backs, your friends will start to associate the negative qualities with you as well.
3. Try to display positive emotions
Emotional contagion describes what happens when people are strongly influenced by the moods of other people. According to a research paper from the Ohio University and the University of Hawaii, people can unconsciously feel the emotions of those around them.
The authors of the paper say that’s possibly because we naturally mimic others’ movements and facial expressions, which in turn makes us feel something similar to what they’re feeling.
If you want to make others feel happy when they’re around you, do your best to communicate positive emotions.
4. Reveal your flaws from time to time
According to the pratfall effect, people will like you more after you make a mistake — but only if they believe you are a competent person. Revealing that you aren’t perfect makes you more relatable and vulnerable toward the people around you.
Researcher Elliot Aronson asked male students from the University of Minnesota to listen to tape recordings of people taking a quiz.
When people did well on the quiz but spilled coffee at the end of the interview, the students rated them higher on likability than when they did well on the quiz and didn’t spill coffee or didn’t do well on the quiz and spilled coffee.
5. Casually touch them
Subliminal touching occurs when you touch a person so subtly that they barely notice. Common examples include tapping someone’s back or touching their arm, which can make them feel more warmly toward you.
A University of Mississippi and Rhodes College experiment studied the effects of interpersonal touch on restaurant tipping, and had some waitresses briefly touch customers on the hand or shoulder as they were returning their change. As it turns out, those waitresses earned significantly larger tips than the ones who didn’t touch their customers.
6. Display a sense of humor
Research from Illinois State University and California State University at Los Angeles found that, regardless of whether people were thinking about their ideal friend or romantic partner, a sense of humor was really important.
A study from researchers at DePaul University and Illinois State University found that using humor when you’re first getting to know someone can make the person like you more.
In fact, the study suggested that participating in a humorous task (like having someone wear a blindfold while the other person teaches them a dance) can increase romantic attraction.
7. See the other person how they want to be seen
People want to be perceived in a way that aligns with their own beliefs about themselves. This phenomenon is described by self-verification theory. We all seek confirmations of our views, positive or negative.
For a series of studies at Stanford University and the University of Arizona, participants with positive and negative perceptions of themselves were asked whether they wanted to interact with people who had positive or negative impressions of them.
The participants with positive self-views preferred people who thought highly of them, while those with negative self-views preferred critics. This could be because people like to interact with those who provide feedback consistent with their known identity.
8. Tell them a secret
Self-disclosure may be one of the best relationship-building techniques.
You can try this technique on your own as you’re getting to know someone. For example, you can build up from asking easy questions (like the last movie they saw) to learning about the people who mean the most to them in life.
When you share intimate information with another person, they are more likely to feel closer to you and want to confide in you in the future.
9. Show that you can keep their secrets, too
Two experiments led by researchers at the University of Florida, Arizona State University, and Singapore Management University found that people place a high value on both trustworthiness in their relationships.
This trait proved especially important when people were imagining their ideal friend and ideal employee.
10. Let them talk about themselves
Harvard researchers recently discovered that talking about yourself may be inherently rewarding, the same way that food, money, and sex are.
In other words, letting someone share a story or two about their life instead of blabbing about yours could give them more positive memories of your interaction.