, ,

[The importance of similarity in liking others]

Whenever I go into a store to buy something and I start chatting with the shop assistant, within seconds it emerges that we share at least 2-3 things in common. Now isn’t this strange?

Back in the 1990s, a young researcher by the name of Donn Byrne wanted to study how similarity affects how much we like others. He started by talking to students and finding out their attitudes and preferences on pretty much everything from religion, to politics, to films, to sports, to premarital sex. He analysed his data and distilled them down to 26 key attributes.

Next, he found some students and asked them to indicate how much they agreed with a number of statements. Some were about serious things like ‘I believe in God’, while others had to do with relatively trivial attitudes, such as ‘I dislike Westerns’. He collected the responses and then a few days later, he showed each person the responses of another individual on the same statements. (Naturally, he had made these up!) This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1-similarity-1.jpgThen he asked students how much they liked these other people on the basis of their responses.

Byrne had divided his subjects into four categories. The first group got responses which were practically identical to their own. With the second group it was the other way round. What he discovered was that similarity of views / attitudes mattered enormously. On a scale of liking from 1 – 14, the first group said they loved these other guys (rating: 13 out of 14). The second group all but hated them (rating: 4.41 out of 14). This is a huge difference.

What happened with categories three and four is much more interesting however. Subjects in group three got responses which showed that the other person had similar attitudes in important matters (e.g. religion, politics) but different ones in less important ones (e.g. sports, films). With group four, it was the other way round. Now, you would expect that people in group three would really like these other people, while people in group four would dislike them, right?

Wrong! Incredibly, what Byrne found was that quantity trumps quality! In other words, it does not matter whether we share similar views on important matters, so long as we {“type”:”block”,”srcClientIds”:[“df5e4e5d-9285-435c-a4b2-7cae0b216280″],”srcRootClientId”:””}have many trivial things in common. Put another way, it does not matter if we disagree in politics, as long as we share the same name, zodiac sign and shoe-size! (Byrne 1997).

And this is the moral here: do you want your students / your colleagues / your boss / parents etc. to like you? The easiest way to achieve this is to discover as many things as you can that you share in common – however trivial (‘Yes! I too add pepper to my coffee!’). Take a leaf out of the shop assistants’ book.

The Moral: Find and stress similarities between yourself and others.