Do Opposites Attract? No!

The sneaker clad legs of two people in the frame - and the sneakers could be seen as opposites
Conventional wisdom may not be right

Its ‘accepted’ wisdom, right? However, it does not stand up to close scrutiny, even though It is the chief selling proposition in the meetings, conventions and exhibitions industry which generates revenue of over $150 billion a year, The promise – meet with people from allied industries, make use of networking opportunities and develop contacts outside your areas of business.

The observed behavior is very different. People tend to mix with people they already know or are acquainted with and rarely with those outside or unrelated to their business. The researchers who conducted the study invited 100 industry heads across various businesses and hosted a party where the only agenda was to eat, drink and get to know others better. Each of the attendees wore a tag that traced their movement within the group.

Apparently, individuals at the ‘mixer’ were willing to encounter and engage with others of a different race than them but as individuals. If a certain group was composed of people from one particular race, no one from a different race joined in. When the groups were observed further, previous association or friendship was the strongest reason for engagement. People were more likely to meet a new person if they were introduced by an intermediary. They would rarely try and connect on their own.

This is familiar territory for all of us who have attended ‘networking’ events. Walk into a room full of strangers and the first move is to scan the crowd to look for familiar faces – then make a beeline for them. Wait for some of the other people in the group to facilitate introductions and if the conversations work out fine, great. Otherwise, just head for the bar, down a few quick ones, check out the buffet, wolf down something and then make a quiet exit. There are several singles, small tightly knit groups that never separate and if there is a celebrity, a crowd around them asks the usual questions or poses for photographs. The singles are the most tragic ones, floating and hovering around groups but never charging in. If they do, there is a polite conversation, but a few sentences later, the strain begins to show on everyone and the single slinks away.

An article in Wired makes another interesting point. In a highly diverse social environment like a university where students from different nationalities study in the same class, the opportunity to mix and make friends is available to everyone. Yet, students choose to hang out with their own. The surprising finding – When people have a choice, they choose relationships with people who are similar to them. Now, that flies completely in the face of the wisdom we have been fed, both in the form of proverbs and social truths.

Husbands and wives emphasise how they are complete ‘opposites’. With great relish, they dish out stories of how they complement each other because they have diverse interests. One likes books, the other likes movies. One needs food to be spicy but the other likes it bland. One of them talks for hours on end but the other is like the Sphinx. But the ‘opposite’ factor here is only in terms of traits, not social backgrounds. It would be interesting to know what you think