Cooney, G*, Boothby, E. J.*, & Schweitzer, M. (under review). A New Look at Homophily: People Underestimate the Extent to Which Dissimilar Others Are Interested in Talking to Them.
Despite the benefits of interacting with diverse others, most people choose to spend time with those who are similar to themselves. This “homophily,” the tendency for “birds of a feather to flock together,” is one of the most widely replicated phenomena across the social sciences. Existing research, however, has focused on two primary explanations for homophily: people’s direct preference to want to associate with similar others and a lack of opportunity to interact with those who are different from themselves. These mechanisms are undoubtedly true, but we suggest an additional explanation for homophily; namely, that people may avoid interacting with diverse others because people underestimate the extent to which different others are interested in talking to them (e.g., “I would actually prefer to talk to someone different than me, but I’m not sure they will be interested in talk to me”).
Such “dissimilarity pessimism” may have important implications for areas such as relationship development and workplace diversity.To explore the applied consequences of this phenomenon, we collaborated with Mystery Minds, an organization that attempts to bridge group divides by connecting employees through conversation. In one study, employees were actually more interested in networking with someone from a different sociocultural background, but people nonetheless displayed an ample amount of dissimilarity pessimism—underestimating how much someone from a different sociocultural background would be interested in talking to them. These findings contribute, both theoretically and practically, to our understanding of homophily, networking, intergroup interaction, and the development of diverse relationships.