The benefits of having friends who aren’t ‘just like us’

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Creating a strong network of friends has its own advantages, from offering support whenever we are down, to a group we are able to share our thoughts with. Yet could we be missing out whenever we only mix with people “just such as us”?

For most of us, people we see on a regular basis – our own social network – are a defining component of our lives.

Friends assist us understand our place in the entire world and research shows that strong friendships are usually associated with reduced anxiety .

But there is a growing entire body of evidence that suggests individuals tend to make friends with people who are much like them.

This could be that we could all take advantage of widening the circles we move around in. For example , mixing with a diverse group of people can stimulate creativity and benefits both the person and society.

The particular impact that our social networks have in the strength of our opinions is an region that researchers are investigating.

The attitudes we keep most strongly guide the way we all see the world and are more resists being changed by the persuasion more.

Often , we look for, process and retain information that will confirms our views, while getting rid of information that disagrees with our views.

An example of this inch confirmation prejudice ” might be the way all of us listen to others’ views on Brexit and whether we believe it is great, or bad, for the UK.

Most people are in social networks composed of like-minded people, whereas a small group mix with people with a wider selection of views.

As groupings become more diverse, evidence suggests their particular members are more open to persuasion plus their attitudes towards a particular issue turn out to be less entrenched .

In the case of Brexit, many of us may have acquired that “aha” moment, when we noticed that just about everyone we knew kept the same view as we did.

This is why, if you are the Remainer, you may have been amazed to understand the outcome of the referendum on the United kingdoms’s membership of the EU.

If you were a Leaver, however , the result would have seemed a lot more obvious – after all, many of the individuals you know held that view.

It is a compelling example of a present-day dispute where people hold starkly different views.

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Consequences can follow when folks have such polarised positions.

The tendency of “birds of a feather to flock together” – a behaviour sociologists contact homophily – often strengthens stereotypes about both our own group and people of others.

It can occur in many ways, for example children in school cafeterias collection themselves by many methods from ethnicity to less intuitively apparent characteristics like hairstyle and whether or not they wear glasses.

Quickly, we can find our social planet divided along lines of age, interpersonal class, political views, religion plus race.

Extra psychological biases may then take over.

For example , we may see our personal group as “better” – for example , more interesting, enjoyable, or informed – and other organizations as less favourable.

In the worst cases, we can proceed from a slight preference for our very own group to active dislike more.

As groups shift further apart, they can end up residing in different neighbourhoods, attending different educational institutions and believing different “facts”.

Find out more:

  • The BBC’s Bridging Divides series discusses stories about the ways that people link in an increasingly polarised world
  • The series runs across BBC Information from Monday 23 to Fri 27 April

Lack of knowledge of others’ habits, thoughts and feelings may shape our views of the planet, as we tend to use stereotypes in making sense of people we all rarely encounter.

Despite this, research suggests that having close friends who belong to other groups could be good for us.

It could reduce anxiety about mixing with individuals who aren’t “just like us” and dispel negative expectations associated with interactions with them.

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This, in turn, can lead to better attitudes towards other groups generally.

It enables plus encourages us to take the viewpoint of their members and to feel a lot more empathy towards them.

A surprising effect is that contact with one particular group of “others”, for example gay individuals, can change our attitudes towards various other groups, for example people with more or less cash than us.

Get in touch with appears to reduce prejudice, polarisation plus segregation – the effects of contact drip down from one group to other people.

The way contact with some other groups changes our attitudes has been demonstrated in many studies all over the world.

Most of this early work has been done in the US, where studies associated with white American and African American learners following the desegregation of schools discovered that increased contact reduced bias.

Other examples of profitable contact, from my own research group from Oxford University , include Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland in europe; Malay, Chinese and Indian individuals in Malaysia and Greek-Cypriot plus Turkish-Cypriot people in Cyprus.

Most recently, we discovered that the merger of previously individual schools, catering for White-British plus Asian-British students in Oldham, resulted in more positive attitudes towards one another and much more mixed groups of friends.

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Naturally , in many places, groups still reside segregated lives.

Yet indirect contact between them can still result in changing attitudes.

For instance , knowing of other groups via mutual friends has been shown to reduce bias almost as effectively as immediate contact.

People have already been shown to change their attitudes toward other groups after watching movies, or television, that portray people of these groups.

For instance , research about the comedy Will plus Grace, which centres around a companionship between a heterosexual woman plus gay men, suggests that attitudes regarding gay people are more positive among those which watch more episodes.

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Image caption Are usually viewers of TV’s Will Plus Grace more positive in attitudes toward gay people?

This result is not merely due to who wants to watch such programs. Experiments that randomly assigned individuals to watch programmes including Queer Eye for your Straight Guy discovered they were more likely to display reduced amounts of prejudice compared with those who watched some other shows.

Contact is just not, however , a panacea for bias.

Its performance is limited by continued segregation, or even where a sense of threat can be felt when groups mix : confirming prejudices in the worst instances.

Over 60 years associated with research – from North America in order to Europe, Asia, Africa and Australasia – suggests that contact between groupings is a powerful means of improving relationships.

In many cases it can observe us live together more favorably and peaceably in an increasingly varied world.


About this piece

This analysis item was commissioned by the BBC from a specialist working for an outside organisation .

Prof Miles Hewstone is director from the Oxford Centre for the Study associated with Intergroup Conflict .

Follow the team at @OxCSIC .


Edited simply by Duncan Walker

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