Unfortunately, Opposites Don’t Attract

Wired has an interesting article which concludes, from two different studies, that if given the choice, people tend to befriend others like them. This is bad, because people that are less alike tend to form closer friendships (see The Odd Couple), and entrepreneurs with more diverse friends tend to be better innovators. The studies:

  • At mixers, people don’t really mix, but rather talk to people just like them. In the study (PDF), conversations were eavesdropped upon at a business mixer and found that marketers talked to other marketers, bankers to other bankers, etc.
  • At large universities, people sift through the enormously diverse masses to find friends that are just like them. In the study (PDF), researchers approached pairs of people at the University of Kansas and asked them to take surveys designed to give a rough profile of the students, based on background, lifestyle and belief questions (ethnicity, religion, if they drink or smoke, etc). That university has about 25,000 students and is very diverse; they repeated the study at smaller schools in rural Kansas, which had about 500 students, on average. The friends on the large campus were significantly more alike than the ones in the small campuses.

Conformity: when people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other

This behavior can generally be explained by the principle of least effort: it’s hard dealing with people that aren’t you.


From Columbia University (PDF) and Wellesley College (PDF) via Wired

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