Persuasive Patterns: Relation

Liking Bias

We prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like

Illustration of Liking Bias
Run a Liking Bias play

This persuasive pattern is part of the Persuasive Patterns printed card deck.

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Liking refers to the natural human tendency to be more easily persuaded or influenced by people or entities they find likable or relatable.

Imagine perusing the shelves of a local bookstore while a fellow customer, with a friendly demeanor, starts a conversation about a particular genre you both seem to enjoy. This person provides some recommendations, shares similar tastes, and even points out a few hidden gems. As the conversation wraps up, based on this newfound connection, you find yourself more inclined to buy one or even a few of the books they suggested. The genuine connection and shared interests made their recommendations more persuasive to you.

Consider an online music streaming platform you’ve recently joined. A feature of this platform is the ability to see playlists curated by friends whom you trust and respect. One day, you notice a close friend, someone whose musical taste you’ve always admired, has shared a playlist titled “My All-Time Favorites.” You’re naturally curious and start listening. Track after track, you find yourself loving the selections, and by the end, you’ve discovered several new artists and songs. The fact that the recommendations came from someone you like and can relate to makes the experience more compelling. You’re more inclined to trust other playlists from friends in the future.

The study

In the late 1970s, a group of dedicated researchers initiated a fascinating experiment to explore the dynamics of interpersonal relationships. They gathered participants and paired them with unfamiliar partners. Before diving into their designated tasks, a subset of these pairs was provided a brief window of time to engage in casual conversation, with the aim of uncovering mutual interests or hobbies. The results of this study were both illuminating and profound. Pairs who successfully identified shared interests during their short interaction were markedly more inclined to perceive their partners as likable. Furthermore, these pairs exhibited a heightened sense of cooperation in the tasks that followed their discussion. This experiment underscores the profound influence of discovering commonalities on the perception of likability, demonstrating that even in the most fleeting of interactions, the allure of mutual interests and the gravitation towards likability remain potent forces in human interaction.

Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. H. (1978). Interpersonal attraction (2nd ed.). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

The “Liking” pattern draws heavily from the principle of affiliation and attraction in psychology, which posits that humans have a fundamental drive to bond with others and are more inclined to be influenced by people or entities they find appealing.

At its core, the Liking pattern capitalizes on the basic human inclination to trust, listen to, and be influenced by those we like or have positive feelings towards. This can be due to several factors, such as shared interests, physical attractiveness, compliments, or perceived similarities. The principle implies that if an individual or brand is perceived as likable, their messages or offers are more likely to be received positively and acted upon. However, it is essential to recognize the responsibility that comes with this power of influence. Misusing it can lead to mistrust and can be ethically questionable. Authenticity and genuine intent are crucial components to ensure the ethical application of the Liking pattern.

Designing products using the Liking Bias

One of the most effective ways to cultivate liking is by establishing common ground. For digital products, this can translate to creating user interfaces that resonate with the user’s preferences or cultural backgrounds. This familiarity breeds comfort. For instance, if a platform identifies that a user has a penchant for a particular genre of music, it might display recommendations from that genre more prominently.

Personalization is another powerful tool. By tailoring user experiences based on previous interactions, designers can make users feel understood and valued. When a user feels a product “knows” them, they inherently develop a liking for it. Imagine a fitness app that not only tracks a user’s progress but also celebrates milestones with them, reinforcing the shared journey.

While the “Liking” pattern is influential, it’s crucial to navigate its application judiciously. A common pitfall is over-personalization, where users might feel their privacy is being invaded. While tailoring experiences, it’s essential to ensure users don’t feel like they’re under surveillance.

Another error is assuming that what works for one demographic will work for another. Cultural sensitivities vary, and what’s appealing to one user group might be off-putting to another. It’s essential to conduct thorough user research and avoid making broad assumptions.

Genuine liking cannot be forced. Overly aggressive attempts to make users like a product, such as bombarding them with too many notifications or recommendations, can backfire.

When combining liking with other patterns, ensure that the likable persona or aspect remains consistent. This builds and maintains trust. For instance, if you’re using a friendly mascot to interact with users (like Duo from Duolingo), maintain that mascot’s presence when incorporating other persuasive patterns like achievements or rewards.

Especially when combining liking with authority bias or social proof, ensure that endorsements, testimonials, or influencer partnerships feel genuine. Avoid making it seem like a mere transaction, as this can diminish the liking factor.

Ethical recommendations

The liking bias can be twisted to create a false sense of connection or rapport with users. By artificially crafting a persona or brand image that seems likable, businesses might lure users into making decisions they might not have made otherwise. This artificial likability, when discovered, can lead to a breach of trust.

With the rise of big data and analytics, there’s a temptation to use personal information to tailor messages that exploit the liking bias. For instance, by leveraging data about user preferences, companies might present themselves or their products in ways that mirror those preferences, even if they don’t genuinely align with them.

Relying on seemingly genuine endorsements or testimonials that are, in reality, paid or scripted can be misleading. Users might be influenced by these endorsements, thinking they are genuine expressions of liking, when they’re just marketing tactics.

  • Authenticity is key
    Always prioritize genuine interactions and authentic presentations. If a brand or product has likable features, highlight them, but don’t invent or exaggerate qualities for the sake of persuasion.
  • Transparent endorsements
    If endorsements or testimonials are used as part of leveraging the liking bias, ensure they are genuine. If there’s any compensation or incentive provided for these endorsements, it should be disclosed to maintain transparency.
  • Respect boundaries
    Avoid over-personalizing content to the point where users feel their privacy is invaded. Respect user data and ensure that any personalization is done with the user’s consent and knowledge.
  • Educate and Inform
    Provide users with the necessary information to make informed decisions. Instead of just leveraging the liking bias to persuade, combine it with factual, helpful information so users understand the basis of their decisions.


TOMS Shoes

TOMS promises a “One for One” model: for every product bought, they help someone in need. This commitment became the brand’s essence. Customers resonated with TOMS’ cause, making them more receptive to the brand’s promotions and requests.


Duolingo’s mascot, Duo the owl, interacts with users to motivate their learning. If users lag, Duo sends playful reminders. The established bond with Duo makes users more likely to heed these reminders than generic alerts.


Spotify offers collaborative playlists. When invited to collaborate by a friend, users aren’t just accessing a feature but are responding to a personal request. This connection encourages more active engagement and collaboration on the platform.

Trigger Questions

  • How can I establish common ground or shared interests between the user and the product or brand?
  • Does this design foster genuine likability, or does it risk coming across as artificial or forced?
  • How can I tailor the user experience to resonate with individual preferences without infringing on privacy?
  • Does the brand or product representation align with the cultural or demographic sensitivities of the target audience?
  • Are endorsements, testimonials, or influencer partnerships genuinely reflecting likability, or do they risk seeming transactional?
  • How can I gather and incorporate user feedback to ensure the product continually aligns with what users genuinely like and resonate with?


Liking Bias + Social Proof

Combining the principle of liking with social proof can be powerful. For instance, when brands use testimonials from relatable individuals or influencers whom their target audience likes, it makes the testimonials more compelling. A classic example is Instagram, where users see recommendations based on not just their interests, but also from accounts that their friends and admired personalities follow or like. This combination reinforces trust and amplifies the inclination to explore or buy.

Illustration of Liking Bias
Liking Bias

We prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like

Illustration of Social Proof
Social Proof

We assume the actions of others in new or unfamiliar situations

Liking Bias + Reciprocity

When a brand or individual does something that users appreciate or find value in, the principle of reciprocity kicks in. Pairing this with the liking principle can enhance the overall user experience. For example, when a brand provides a free webinar or workshop, attendees not only feel obligated to reciprocate (perhaps by purchasing a product or service), but if the presenter is likable, the conversion rate often increases. Dropbox’s referral program is a prime example. By giving both the referrer and referee extra storage space, it combines the goodwill generated by giving (reciprocity) with the trust and liking associated with personal referrals.

Illustration of Liking Bias
Liking Bias

We prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like

Illustration of Reciprocity

We feel obliged to give when we receive

Liking Bias + Storytelling

Narratives resonate with humans, and if the story involves relatable and likable characters or narrators, it’s bound to have a more profound impact. Brands that employ storytelling in their campaigns, and pair it with a likable figure or message, often see higher engagement. Brands like Apple often do this by presenting their product stories and innovations through admired personalities or heartwarming narratives.aaAlways test the combined effects of different persuasive patterns. What works for one audience might not work for another. For instance, the combination of liking bias, scarcity, and social proof might work exceptionally well for a fashion e-commerce platform, where users see popular, limited-stock items their friends have liked or purchased. However, the same combination might not resonate as effectively on a B2B software solution site.

Illustration of Liking Bias
Liking Bias

We prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like

Illustration of Storytelling

We engage, understand, and remember narratives better than facts alone

This persuasive pattern is part of the Persuasive Patterns printed card deck.

The Persuasive Patterns Card Deck is a collection of 60 design patterns driven by psychology, presented in a manner easily referenced and used as a brainstorming tool.

Get your deck!
  • by Cialdini
  • Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things by Norman
  • The 'Liking' Principle in User Interface Design at Nielsen Norman Group
  • (). Interpersonal attraction (2nd ed.). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
  • (). The effect of a pratfall on increasing interpersonal attractiveness. Psychonomic Science, 4(6), 227-228.
  • (). The attraction paradigm. New York: Academic Press.
  • (). Social pressures in informal groups; a study of human factors in housing. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • (). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • (), Influence: Science and practice (3rd edn), New York: HarperCollins
  • (), Emotional Design - Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things, Basic Books, New York

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Ice Breakers

Relieve initial group awkwardness and establish a safe space


Broaden knowledge or insight regarding the behavior or situation to inform decisions.


Show practical examples or models of the desired behavior for clear guidance.


Highlight current actions and their reasons, bringing unconscious habits to awareness.


Develop necessary skills and competencies to enable effective action.

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