Psychology

The Pratfall Effect Explains Why We Like Talented People Who Screw Up

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Why is it that one person can screw up—say, a mediocre student forgetting the due date of the big term paper—and make people think less of him, while someone else—the class-president-slash-football-quarterback, perhaps—can do the exact same thing and have everyone like him even more? It sounds like favoritism, but there's an interesting psychological phenomenon at play. It's called the pratfall effect.

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Agyness Deyn removes her shoes after falling twice attending Fashion For Relief Haiti NYC 2010 Benefit.

He's Just A Regular Guy

Mistakes are learning moments, but screwing up may also give you a boost of another kind: it can make people like you more. The pratfall effect is the tendency for a competent person's likability to increase after they make a mistake. Think about the many times Jennifer Lawrence has tripped and fallen at awards shows—instead of judging her for a lack of poise, we love her because she's just like us. In fact, this effect probably occurs because competent people who never trip up are perceived as less relatable, and thus less likable. Once that seemingly perfect person makes a mistake, they're suddenly more appealing.

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

This effect can work in the opposite way as well. If someone who is perceived as incompetent makes a mistake, the pratfall effect says that person's likability decreases. This is probably because they move even further down the ladder of competence after a screw-up, making them appear more incompetent still.

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