Study analyzes which shared traits attract us to new people

Past studies have shown that people will react more positively to people who are similar to them. People who perceive similarities are more likely to speak with someone they think is similar to them, have and maintain closer relationships with people who are similar, and are more altruistic towards friends with which they have more in common. Associating with people who are similar to you is known as choice homophily.

Researchers used two studies to determine which shared traits attract us most to new people, in a study published in PLoS ONE. Researchers were particularly interested in whether choice homophily is specific to some traits, rather than occurring from just being in the same group.

In order to determine whether there is a “consistent relationship between some particular traits and positive evaluation of a potential social partner,” scientists looked at two types of trait indicators, “status homophily (based on formal, informal or ascribed status) and value homophily (based on traits such as shared hobbies, interests or tastes.” Status homophily includes traits we cannot change, like our age, sex, and race, as well as traits we acquire later, such as religion, political views, and occupation. The latter set of traits are more closely linked to value traits.

In the Experiment 1, 204 participants completed a trait questionnaire (14 traits) and were then ‘paired’ with a profile they believed to be representing a partner. The traits the participant and profile shared were randomly chosen, and participants were told they would need to recall these traits later. Partners either shared nine out of fourteen traits, five out of fourteen traits, of no traits.

Participants completed an evaluation with their partner and then answered questions about how much they would be willing to work with this partner in the future, how much they thought they would like their partner, and how likely they would be to report their partner’s cheating during the examination to an evaluator. Finally, participants were asked to recall four traits of their partners before the study concluded. This entire process was repeated for each of the partners for each participant.

Researchers found that taste in music and political views were the two most important predictors of homophily, in that order, with religion also being a strong indicator. The most important predictors, in no particular order, were: ethnicity, natal area, religion, current area, musical taste, political views and ethical statement.

For Experiment 2, researchers focused on the most important predictors from Experiment 1. Participants repeated a similar process, where they entered seven traits and interacted with two partners, and asked to remember three of their partners’ traits. Researchers stated, “Unlike Experiment 1, shared political views were not a significant predictor of likeability… of the partner, and neither were the current region, natal region or ethnicity.”

Researchers concluded that we use some traits more than others to determine homophily. These results suggest that “choice homophily effects are more complex than minimal group membership effects, and implies that even when engaging in quite simple activities… participants were using all the information available to try to determine the personality and character of prospective partners.”