We don’t want someone identical but in both friends and partners we seek similarities to us

Social ecology of similarity: Big schools, small schools and social relationships

From Group Processes and Intergroup Relations

People prefer to make friends with others who share their beliefs, values, and interests. The more choice people have, the more their friends are alike. This study reveals that people aren’t looking for an identical twin, but they seek similarity because it makes for smoother, more pleasant interaction. When people have choice they find friendships and romantic relationships with people who share their attitudes, religious beliefs, and politics. Researchers approached pairs of students interacting in public, and asked them questions about their attitudes, beliefs, and health behaviours and found that although on the large campus friends were more similar to each other, the small campus students rated their friendships as closer than the large campus pairs. The campuses were equal on how long the people had been friends and on how much time they spent together. The researchers conclude that the irony of the situation is that as settings get more and more diverse, friendships become more homogeneous.


Social ecologies shape the way people initiate and maintain social relationships. Settings with much opportunity will lead to more fine-grained similarity among friends; less opportunity leads to less similarity. We compare two ecological contexts—a large, relatively diverse state university versus smaller colleges in the same state—to test the hypothesis that a larger pool of available friendship choices will lead to greater similarity within dyads. Participants in the large campus sample reported substantially more perceived ability to move in and out of relationships compared to participants in the small colleges sample. Dyads were significantly more similar on attitudes, beliefs, and health behaviors in the large campus than in the small colleges sample. Our findings reveal an irony—greater human diversity within an environment leads to less personal diversity within dyads. Local social ecologies create their own “cultures” that affect how human relationships are formed.

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Article details
Bahns, A., Pickett, K., & Crandall, C. (2011). Social ecology of similarity: Big schools, small schools and social relationships Group Processes & Intergroup Relations DOI: 10.1177/1368430211410751

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