Opposites Don't Actually Attract

Despite of what you may have heard, opposites actually don't attract. A new study shows that despite what most people say about seeking a wider circle of friendship (say, in a large college setting, where there are a lot of different types of people available), they typically befriend only those most similar to themselves:

In an ideal world, being able to meet lots of different people at college would lead to a diversity of friends; we’d take advantage of the human variety on display.

But that’s not what happened. Bahns et al. found that students at the huge state school tended to spend time with people who were much more similar to them than students at the small, rural colleges.

According to the scientists, the level of correlation between friends on the survey was higher on 80 percent of the questions at the University of Kansas, suggesting that the undergraduates were using the size of the campus to identify those who shared their precise set of beliefs, habits and attitudes.

Instead of learning from people who were extremely different – who disagreed with their stance on abortion, or didn’t like ultimate frisbee, or never attended football games – the students were obeying the similarity-attraction effect, sifting through the vast population to find the most homologous possible circle of friends. As the researchers put it, “the larger social contexts afford better opportunity for finegrained assortment.”


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It certainly isn't as satisfying when you are in constant disagreement with popular opinions. I think the greek parable of Narcissus really speaks to these psychological mechanisms. Narcissism is not just about seeing one's own physical appearance, it is also about staring into the reflection of one's own ideals, politics and companions.
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