It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“Logic would suggest that the more diverse a society or group of people is, the more diverse the friendships within that group would be. … But a new study finds that the opposite is actually the case.
At [a university with a large student body], students tended to have friends who mirrored their beliefs, values, attitudes and personalities more closely than those at smaller colleges. ” (“Friends Like Me: Why Diverse Groups May Lead to Similar Friends” healthland.time.com 9/30/2011)
I don’t find this research all that surprising, even if the authors are trying to make it sound counterintuitive.
Yes, it’s true that one main reason people move to big cities is for the diversity of the population. And it’s also true that one of the main reasons I chose to go to college at Chicago’s Northwestern over a small school in Vermont is that I wanted a more diverse student body. My visit to Vermont, while intellectually stimulating, was basically a blur of white people in North Face jackets. Everyone looked alike, and it was creepy. I wanted to be among all types of potential friends.
And yet, when I look back at my college experience, my gang of besties looked pretty similar to me. Most shared my religion and political views. Diverse we were not.
Just like the research says.
When you are surrounded by a huge student body, all the “options” can seem overwhelming. There are so many different potential friends, such varied groups to hang out with. When overwhelmed with choices, it doesn’t surprise me that people flock to what is familiar. Isn’t that how most decisions play out, whether you are picking friends or paint colors?
According the study, it’s more complex than that: “The authors suggest that these effects are due to greater social mobility: that is, the more people there are, the easier is it is to make new friends and then move to another social group if it doesn’t work out. So people continue to sift through the various social groups and seek out friends who are like them in increasingly fine-grained ways. Sociologist have shown that this granularity can extend as far as physical appearance, or even having the same first letter in your name.”
Scientific research continues to prove what I wish weren’t true: we’ve all got a homogeneity bias. Or, as the authors write in their study: “Similarity is ubiquitous and desirable.”
Have you noticed this research to be true? Are you more likely to flock to similar friends when you are in a large diverse group? Or do you use the opportunities afforded by a diverse population to befriend a more varied group of people?