Physical Similarities Cause Students to Sit Next to One Another

This combination of four studies showed that individuals tend to flock together and sit with people who appear similar to them. The first study showed that those who wore glasses and belonged to the same gender sat together. The second study showed that sex, race, hair length and color, and wearing glasses determined who sat next to whom. The third study was conducted in a laboratory setting and saw similar results. The fourth study showed that like-individuals preferred to sit together; similarity in appearance and glasses could also predict the distance between two seated people.

It is known that people who are similar tend to form friendships and relationships. The similarities may be in appearance or values, attitudes, memberships to social groups, etcetera. It is speculated that this behavior of being with similar people may have longer- lasting implications. One individual could be sitting beside similar people and interacting with them more often; this can lead to forming relationships with similar people rather than dissimilar ones. This research combining four studies tries to assess the parameters of physical appearance which draw people to sit beside one another in both natural settings, as well as laboratory settings.

* For the first study, 356 undergraduate students were asked to participate in classes with 31 seats available. A total of 21 classes were held. Of the participants, 23 percent had glasses and 57.6 percent were females. The way the participants sat in classes was noted.
* For Study 2, 18 large classes were chosen with a total of 2,228 students. The study sample included 36.7 percent males, 18.1 percent with glasses, 36.9 percent blondes, 28.3 percent with long hair, 68.8 perent white, 8.5 percent Asians, 1.5 percent blacks, and 21.2 percent of other or mixed ethnicities.
* For Study 3, a moderately attractive female Caucasian peer was chosen. She wore glasses for half of the study participants (72 undergraduate students). Of the participants, 76.1 percent were Caucasian, 18.4 percent had the same hazel eyes as the peer, 15.7 percent had the same brown hair, 25.4 percent had glasses, 69 percent were women, 71.4 percent had normal body proportions and 29.2 percent had short hair like her. They staged a three-minute one-on-one interview in which the seating distance between the peer and the participant was noted.
* For Study 4, 174 participants were included in which they had to rate the pictures of eight people who differed in sex, glasses, etc. The participants also stated whether they would sit with the people in the pictures.

Key findings
* Study 1 showed that those who wore glasses sat with others who wore glasses. People also grouped together based on their sex.
* Study 2 showed that all the different traits, like glasses, sex, hair color, hair length, and ethnicity determined seating arrangements of the students.
* Study 3 showed that people who were similar to the peer in terms of eye color, hair color, hair length, body proportions, glasses, sex, etc., tended to sit closer to her than those who were dissimilar.
* Study 4 showed that wearing glasses and physical similarity with those in the pictures could predict the self-reports of seating distance of the participants. This replicated the results from the first three studies.

Next steps/shortcomings
Authors admit some limitations in their studies. The attractiveness of the confederate could have been a confounder in Study 3 that assessed seating distance. In Study 4, people might have been biased in self-reporting their seating distance. The studies also do not reveal if acquaintance with a similar or dissimilar-looking person could interfere with seating choice. Further studies to clarify this are warranted.

This study concludes, from four different experiments, that people tend to sit beside others who are physically similar. The reasons are not completely explained by traditional similarities like race, ethnicity, sex and attractiveness. Other factors, like wearing glasses, hair and eye color, and hair length, are also found to contribute to this social phenomenon. The study reveals that people prefer similar-looking strangers to decide their seating distance, also. Authors speculate that the “simple process of choosing to sit beside people who are similar to us can have broad implications at a macro level.” When people gravitate toward others with the same eye, skin and hair color, or wear glasses, they tend to miss opportunities to form relationships with dissimilar-looking people. This could lead to segregation, misunderstandings and prejudices in the long run. Considering ethnic and racial segregation is a significant problem worldwide, this study may have wider consequences and needs deeper understanding.

For More Information:
Birds of a Feather Sit Together: Physical Similarity Predicts Seating Choice
Publication Journal: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, April 2011
By Sean P. Mackinnon; Christian H. Jordan; Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

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