We Like People Who Have Similar Interests to Us Because We’re Dummies
There are a lot of things that make a person appealing, but the notion that opposites attract may only apply to Paula Abdul, dancing cartoons and magnets. Because according to a new series of studies, when it comes to human beings, we’re sluts for anyone who likes the same things as we do.
Charles Chu, an assistant professor of management and organizations at Boston University, uncovered how we tend to use common interests as a way to gauge someone’s overall “essence” (read: vibe), and to determine if they share the same worldview. It might seem rash to make such a judgment based on whether or not someone is caught up on Succession, but Chu and his colleagues refer to this as “self-essentialist reasoning,” or the belief that someone has a comportment that’s perfectly reflective of who they are deep down.
“If we had to come up with an image of our sense of self, it would be this nugget, an almost magical core inside that emanates out and causes what we can see and observe about people and ourselves,” Chu explains. “We argue that believing people have an underlying essence allows us to assume or infer that when we see someone who shares a single characteristic, they must share my entire deeply rooted essence as well.”
Since we can only know so much about other people, Chu and his team suspected that we use shared interests to fill in the remaining gaps. To test this theory, they recruited nearly 2,300 people to participate in four separate studies. In each, participants were told about a fictional person named Jamie, who either agreed or disagreed with them on varying topics, or performed similarly (or not) on several tests. Study subjects were also surveyed about how much they believed in essentialist reasoning. All four experiments demonstrated that the more a person believed in essentialist reasoning, the closer they felt to Jamie when they were like themselves.
While this may not make us raging narcissists per se, it is an objectively bad way to make decisions about others. “When you hear a single fact or opinion being expressed that you either agree or disagree with, it really warrants taking an additional breath and just slowing down,” Chu advises. “Not necessarily taking that single piece of information and extrapolating on it, using this type of thinking to go to the very end, that this person is fundamentally good and like me or fundamentally bad and not like me.”
In other words, just because some likes the same music as you doesn’t necessarily make you soulmates. So be very careful about singing that tune.