Theory Of Relatability

A psychological theory about social engagement in relation to a human's physical and psychological state.
Jun 26, 2023
5 min

The theory of relatability describes how your physical and psychological state affects your engagement (e.g., communication, consumption) with another state. The theory states that the more similar your physical and mental state is to another state (e.g., person, book, video), the more you will engage with that state to a certain point.

In other words, higher relatability results in higher engagement.


What Is A Social Experience?

The theory of relatability applies to social experiences, which are formed through interactions between multiple entities' states. A social experience is most similar to a human relationship, which is formed through interactions between multiple people.

So what's the difference?

While the colloquial definition of a human relationship focuses on interactions between each entity (e.g., person), a social experience focuses on the interactions between each entity's physical and psychological state.

Unlike an entity, an entity's physical and psychological state undergoes constant change: The person you are today isn't the same as the person you were yesterday.

This distinction emphasizes how a social experience is more about the interaction between various states rather than the interaction between two or more people. This distinction is important because it expands the scope of a "social experience" from solely communication to any communication involving interaction between multiple entities' states.

Here are examples of social experiences:

  • A person converses with another person: The first person's physical (i.e., body) and psychological (i.e., mental) states engage with the second person's physical and psychological states.
  • A person reads a story written by another person: When a writer writes a story, a psychological state is transcribed into the story. So when another person engages with that story, an interaction between the story's state and the other person's state occurs.
  • A person reads a story written by themselves: When a person writes a story, a psychological state is transcribed into the story. So when that same person reads that story later, an interaction between the story's state and the person's state occurs.

In each example, the interaction between a person and another person is not as significant as the interaction between a person's state and the state of another entity (e.g., person, story, video, etc).

A social experience cannot occur between an entity with the same physical and psychological state as another entity: If this is the case, the second entity is either the first entity or a clone of the first entity.

What Is Relatability?

The concept of "relatability" describes the similarities between multiple entities' physical and psychological states. In other words, relatability measures how similar an entity's state is to another entity's state.

What Is Engagement?

Engagement is the action of interacting with someone or something. Here are examples of engagement in a social experience:

  • Conversation (Text, Speech)
  • Intimacy (Hugs, Kisses, etc.)
  • Signals (Likes, Watch Time, etc.)

How Does Relatability Affect Engagement?

The theory of relatability states that the more similar your physical and mental state is to another state, the more you will engage with that state (to a certain point). In other words, higher relatability results in higher engagement.

While the theory of relatability emphasizes the strong influence of relatability, it does not view relatability as the only factor for engagement. In other words, the theory of relatability suggests that you are less likely to engage in unrelatable social experiences, but not that you will never do so.


The phenomenon behind the theory of relatability is driven by evolution. In other words, the theory of relatability occurs due to evolutionary mechanisms that power human behavior.


Familiarity is a concept that describes the level of awareness of a thing. In human psychology, familiarity is preferred over novel experiences [1] for various purposes. The mere-exposure effect [2] is a psychological phenomenon that describes how people develop a preference for things they are exposed to.


Hormones are chemicals that the human body uses to communicate among cells. This communication lets the human body self-regulate and optimally allocate time and energy [1]. Listening to music regulates hormones (e.g., more dopamine, more prolactin, lower cortisol) when its expression matches your experience [2].



The more relatable you are to someone else, the more likely you hang out with a person.


The more relatable a company or brand is, the more you engage with its products: When those products relate to your state, you engage with them (i.e., purchase, consumption).


The effects of familiarity in the context of dating have been observed:

Low Effort Content

Various content requires a certain skill level to understand, so high-skill-level content remains less popular since fewer people understand — or relate to — it. In addition, content that requires more effort to create is more likely to contain debatable statements, which people highlight since humans fixate on negatives. The result is that highly skilled audiences are both hard to reach and appease.

The theory of relatability would explain why “low-effort content” — which colloquially takes an objectively low amount of effort to create — dominates entertainment platforms. However, you could argue that “low-effort content” is only low-effort since there is a high demand for said content (SINCE IT’S SO RELATABLE), such that there is a demand to make “creating low-effort content” a low-effort activity.

For example, most people do not spend their time reading scholarly articles because they aren’t skilled enough to understand them: People capable of reading scholarly articles are often scholars themselves, but the population of scholars that relate to a given topic is low, which makes the target audience of a scholarly article hard to reach.

In addition, scholars read articles in their fields with skepticism to find potential mistakes in research claims, making the target audience of scholarly articles difficult to appease.

Pop Culture

The theory of relatability argues that the most relatable content becomes popular, so popular culture highlights what most consumers find relatable. This argument suggests that popular content reflects the average consumer and their interests.

So when you wonder why most mainstream entertainment revolves around sex, money, violence, and drugs, look at yourself, your friends, and your family.

Targeted Advertising

Modern advertisement services (e.g., Google, Facebook) collect advertisement profiles oriented around demographics that describe a physical and psychological state rather than individual people.

You can argue that — in a capitalist economy — these companies use advertisement profiles centered around state because it's the most effective strategy: Advertisers pay more money when advertising is effective, and the advertising service is the most effective by using physical and psychological state.

In this context, the theory of relatability asserts that advertising services are the most effective using physical and psychological state because this strategy lets the advertiser advertise products to people who relate to them the most, resulting in higher engagement.


The effects of familiarity in the context of website user experience have been observed:

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