Birds of a Feather

BirdsHave you ever wondered what goes through your mind when you choose where to sit in a new classroom? Or in a waiting room full of strangers? Or on a bus?

Researchers have found out some interesting facts. Sean Mackinnon  has shown that people sit next to people who resemble themselves

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we tend to sit closer to people like ourselves. Girls sit by girls and boys sit by boys. Adults sit together and young people choose another young person to sit near.

However, Mackinnon’s research goes further than this.

Mackinnon first noted the seating positions of hundreds of different students in a 31-seat computer lab 21 times over 3 months, and whether or not they were wearing glasses – a simple proxy for physical similarity. The students, it was found, sat next to someone who matched them on glass-wearing status far more often than would be expected if they were randomly distributed (the effect size was .63).

A second study of 18 university classes involving over two thousand students expanded this finding to show people were more likely to sit next to someone who matched them on glass-wearing, hair colour and hair length, than would be expected by chance. This held true even focusing just on females or just on Caucasians, thus showing the physical similarity effect is more than mere aggregation by sex or race.

So we can conclude form these studies that we even choose to sit near someone who looks like us. People with glasses are more inclined to sit near other people with glasses. People with long hair sit closer to other people with long hair.

We seem to believe that people with similar physical traits will share similar attitudes and we’re more likely to be accepted by people like ourselves or even, we think we may be safer with people who look like us.

Sometimes that’s true but sensible as it sounds it’s a pity if we always stick to the same people, the same crowd.

The danger in always staying in our comfort zone is that we just recycle the same opinions, the same tastes and ideas, the same fashions.

We lose the chance to learn something new, find out about interesting things, hear  fascinating stories and discover differences.

When birds of a feather stick together, how can we ever break down barriers and banish the ignorance that too often leads to prejudice and even fear?

If instead you want to live in a society that thrives on diversity and variety, be the cat among the pigeons.

Move out of your comfort zone.

Go and sit next to someone different. And don’t just sit there in silence. Say hello. Ask a question. Start a conversation.

That’s how we make friends. That’s how we learn about people. That’s how we open our minds to new ideas.


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