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Friday, February 22, 2013

The Law of Liking

A study in the 1950s by Theodore Newcomb found that college students who lived near to one another in the same fraternity (e.g., next door) were much more likely to become friends than students who didn't (e.g., different floors). Why? For the simple reason that those who lived close to one another tended to interact with one another more, and there is a wealth of evidence that suggests that people who repeatedly interact with one another are far more likely to become friends than are people who only interact with one another sporadically. The sociologist George Homans referred to this phenomenon as the "law of liking," but it goes under other names as well.

That's why most of our friends come from those clubs, groups, and faith communities where we spend most of our time. For example, as Larry Iannaccone has observed ("Why Strict Churches Are Strong") stricter churches often demand that members attend worship weekly (if not more) and limit their participation in secular groups and activities. As a consequence, members of stricter churches tend to report that a higher percentage of their close friends are members of their church (Stark and Bainbridge, "The Future of Religion").

To be clear, Homans's law of liking does not claim that if you repeatedly interact with someone you will become friends. Almost all of us have interacted repeatedly with people whom we will never like and we only interact with them because we have to. No, all Homans's law claims is that repeated interaction raises the probability that two people will become friends. So what do you need to do to make new friends? Join a new club, play for a new team, attend a new faith community.

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