Sometimes, the most important relationships in life grow out of the shortest ones. Like when you go to a party and meet someone who wears your favorite band’s shirt, laughs at the same jokes as you, or grabs that unpopular snack you love on your own (or so you thought). A small shared interest sparks a conversation. This is my favourite, too! – and turn into a lasting affection.
This is called the similarity-attraction effect: we generally like people who are similar to us. Now, new findings by a Boston University researcher reveal one reason.
In a series of studies, Charles Chu, associate professor of management and organizations at Bo Questrum Business School, examined the conditions that shape whether we feel drawn to — or disconnected from — each other. One crucial factor he found is what psychologists call self-important thinking, where people imagine they have some deep inner core or core that makes up who they are. Zhou discovered that when someone believes that substance drives their interests, likes, and dislikes, they assume that it is the same for others as well; If they find someone with one matching interest, they believe that person will share their broader view of the world. The results have been published in the American Psychological Association Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
says Chu, who published a paper with Brian S. Laurie of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. “We argue that the belief that people have an essential core allows us to assume or conclude that when we see a person sharing one quality, they must also share my deeply rooted essence.”
But Chu’s research suggests that this impulse to adopt an indefinable basic similarity to someone because of one or two shared interests may be based on faulty thinking—and can limit who we relate to. Working in tandem with the effect of similarity and attractiveness is the opposite push: we hate those we don’t think are like us, often because of one small thing – they like them. that A politician, band, book, or TV show we hate.
“We are all very complex,” says Cho. “But we just have an insight we have king The thoughts, feelings, and minds of others are often a mystery to us. What this work suggests is that we often fill in the spaces in other people’s minds with our own sense of self and that can sometimes lead us to make some unjustified assumptions.”
Try to understand others
To examine why we are attracted to some people and not to others, Chu prepared four studies, each designed to elicit different aspects of how we make friends–or enemies.
In the first study, participants were told about an imaginary person, Jimmy, who held contradictory or complementary attitudes toward them. After asking the participants for their opinions on one of five topics—abortion, the death penalty, gun possession, animal testing, and physician-assisted suicide—Chu asked how they felt about Jimmy, who either agreed or disagreed with them on the target issue. They were also questioned about the roots of their identity to measure their affinity for self-centered thinking.
Chu found that the more a participant believed their worldview was shaped by a core core, the more they felt connected to Jimmy who shared their views on a single issue.
In a second study, he looked at whether this effect persisted when the target subjects were less objective. Instead of looking at whether people agreed with Jimmy on something as divisive as abortion, Chu asked participants to estimate the number of blue dots on a page, then rated them — and fictional Jimmy — as over or under-estimated. Even with this minuscule association, the results held: the more someone believed in a core core, the closer they felt to Jimmy as an over- or under-evaluator.
“I found that with both dimensions of meaningful similarity as well as with scanty and arbitrary similarity, people who are higher in their belief that they have substance are more likely to be attracted to those others who are similar rather than others who are different,” says Chu.
In two accompanying studies, Cho sets out to disrupt this process of attraction, eliminating the influence of self-substantive thinking. In an experiment, he described traits (such as liking a particular painting) as either essential or non-essential; In another talk, he told the participants that using their essence to judge another person might lead to an inaccurate evaluation of others.
“It breaks this process of intrinsic thinking, and it breaks people’s ability to assume that what they see reflects a deeper similarity,” says Chu. “One way I’ve done this is by reminding people that this dimension of sameness isn’t actually connected or related to your essence at all; the other way was by telling people that using their essence as a way to understand other people isn’t very effective.”
Negotiation psychology–and politics–in action
Chu says there is a key tension in his findings that shapes their real-world application. On the one hand, we are all looking for our own community – it’s fun to hang out with people who share our hobbies and interests, love the same music and books as us, and don’t disagree with us on politics. “This kind of thinking is a really useful psychological strategy,” says Zhou. “It allows people to see more of themselves in new people and strangers.” But it also excludes people, and places divisions and boundaries—sometimes on flimsy foundations.
“When you hear one fact or opinion expressed that you either agree with or disagree with, it really calls for taking an extra breath and slowing down,” he says. “It’s not necessarily taking one piece of information and extrapolating to it, using that kind of reasoning to get to the bottom, that this person is basically good and similar to me or basically bad and not like me.”
Chu, whose background blends the study of organizational behavior and psychology, teaches negotiation classes at Questrom and says his research has many implications in the business world, particularly when it comes to deal-making.
“I define negotiations as conversations, agreements and disagreements about how power and resources should be distributed among people,” he says. “What inferences do we make about other people with whom we’re having these conversations? How do we test and reason about agreement versus disagreement? How do we explain when one person gets more and another person gets less? These are all really central questions to the negotiation process.”
But at a time when political division has invaded nearly every area of our lives, including the workplace, the applications of Chu’s findings go far beyond the corporate horse trade. Managing employees, collaborating on projects, team bonding – they are all shaped by the judgments we make about each other. Self-centered thinking may even influence society’s distribution of resources, says Chu: Who we consider worthy of support, who gets money and who doesn’t, could be motivated by “this belief that people’s results are caused by something deep inside them.” That’s why he calls for pause. Pause before judging someone who, at first, doesn’t look like you.
“There are ways we can get on with life and meet other people, and form impressions of others, without constantly looking back at ourselves,” he says. “If we’re constantly walking around trying to figure it out, Who is like me, who is not like me? This is not always the most productive way of trying to form impressions on others. People are more complex than we give them credit for.”