MONDAY, Dec. 19 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that
Facebook, the online social networking web site, shows that people
tend to connect with those who are the most like them.
"The more tastes that you and I share in common, the more likely we are to become friends," said study author Kevin Lewis, a graduate student in sociology at Harvard University.
The findings seem to contradict the conventional wisdom that
people are easily influenced by those around them. Instead, "we're
seeking out people we already resemble rather than learning new
perspectives and liking new things," Lewis said.
For its hundreds of millions of users, Facebook provides a
modern twist on friendship and gives researchers a new window on
The goal of the study was to understand how people choose
friendships, Lewis said. The researchers started with 1,640
students at an unnamed U.S. college in 2006 and tracked their
Facebook friendships and tastes -- in popular music, movies and
books -- until they were seniors in 2009.
Not surprisingly, people were more likely to be friends if they
shared things in common, such as their dorm, their racial
background and economic status, their gender and the regions they
came from. The researchers dug deeper, trying to understand the
roles that people's tastes play in how friendships develop.
The study found that "students who share some tastes in movies
and music are more likely to become friends," Lewis said. Shared
tastes in books were less influential.
The design of the study didn't allow the researchers to describe
in simple statistical terms how much more likely people with common
interests were to become friends.
There wasn't much evidence that friends influenced each other's
tastes except for the areas of jazz and classical music.
Why might these findings matter? "If you are a marketer, you're
going to be concerned about how much of your strategy depends on
the type of targeted advertising that expects trendsetters to
influence their friends," Lewis said.
Gueorgi Kossinets, a researcher at Google Inc. who's familiar
with the findings, described its value this way: "It is important
to know if and how social and group behavior changes as our
interactions become progressively more mediated by computers, and
the whole new generation of 'digital natives' has grown up
surrounded with computers, smart phones and Web applications. It
affects all of us ultimately."
So, do people simply not learn anything from one another?
That's not the case, said Noah Mark, an assistant professor of
sociology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. "The
vast majority of the things we do -- drinking coffee, wearing
clothes, driving a car, 'friending' a friend -- we learned to do
from other people," he said. "The words we speak with, we learned
from other people. We, as individuals, did not invent these words,
ideas or practices."
The study is published Dec. 19 in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
For a slightly darker take on what forms the basis of
friendships, check out this research from the
University of Pennsylvania.
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