Sunday, January 22, 2012

Studies show we're subconsciously drawn to people who look like us

Next time you find yourself seated in a roomful of strangers, take a look around. What you're likely to find is people who look alike end up sitting beside each other. Sean Mackinnon, Christian Jordan and Anne Wilson did research for the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin where they looked at seating patterns. They found that people tend to sit closer to people who share their physical traits. People with glasses sit closer to other people with glasses. People with long hair sit closer to other people with long hair.

It seems we subconsciously assume people who look like us also think like us, like the same things we do and have similar values and attitudes. We're more comfortable and more likely to open up the more physical characteristics we share.

Same thing happens at a cocktail party. Watch people pick out a stranger to talk to and chances are they'll pick out someone with similar physical attributes. My friend Dr. Karen Stephenson describes it this way:

"In the small talk of cocktail parties, humans are at a random walk, desperately seeking points of similarity through visibility: height, girth, dress, gender, race, accent, hair and eye color, etc. Reading the audience and working a room are ancient skills encoded in us by our forebears who sat cheek by jowl around the campfire; an earlier and more primordial form of cocktail party. I confess to having attended countless cocktail parties and continue to be amazed how, after just a few drinks, I end up with people who like me in some way - same experiences, same clothes, same interest, etc. It's not the alcohol talking, but the ancient drive of seeking similarity: 'You look like me, you think like me, you dress like're one of us'."

Here's an interesting aside. Take a look at the picture on the right. That's Dr. Karen (on the left) around the time she made that comment (late 90s) and me during the same time period when I first starting doing research in this area which later became part of the book Axis of Influence - How Credibility and Likability Intersect to Drive Success. 

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