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Post No.: 0126familiarity


Furrywisepuppy says:


Let’s start with some obvious generalities first – we like people we associate with rewarding and happy feelings and events (e.g. gift giving, romantic dinners, holidays, laughter). We also tend to like people who like us, thus liking is usually reciprocated and mutual. Woof!


But familiarity does not generally breed contempt. Familiarity actually breeds fondness and affection. We generally fear the unknown and the personally unfamiliar (e.g. unfamiliar foods, unfamiliar ethnicities, unfamiliar cultures) hence we tend to like and stick to what we know i.e. what’s personally familiar to us. But with repeated exposures to unfamiliar things, we can get used to them and, if these things don’t cause us harm, we can end up accepting and liking them over unfamiliar things that stay unfamiliar.


So familiarity overall breeds liking, and the more we see other faces (e.g. of people of other ethnicities or abilities/disabilities), the more we’ll like them or at least feel safe and okay in their company (‘visual adaptation’ experiments regarding face recognition have even shown that the perceptual appearance of faces can be strongly affected by the characteristics of faces we’ve just viewed previously). The more we’re familiar with something, the more comfortable we’ll feel with or around that something.


We tend to like the ‘average face’ constructed in our own personal internal model of faces from all the faces we’ve personally seen in our life so far. This means that what’s considered personally beautiful to us can change over time depending on the diversity of faces we see. It therefore helps facilitate the friendliness of society for people to be exposed to diversity as a norm; and the generally narrow conception of ‘beauty’ portrayed in adverts and the media therefore narrows people’s own conceptions of what is beautiful. We also like things associated with ourselves, such as people or things that share the same initial letters as our own names, the numbers in our date of birth, or faces like our own (‘implicit egotism’).


If we happen to dislike someone who is very familiar to us, it will be for another reason(s) rather than their mere familiarity. Boredom or contempt regarding familiarity only occurs if the repetition of negative feelings associated with someone or something is incessant; whereas prejudice or fear against unfamiliar groups of people or things occurs if one is not exposed to them enough. Some individuals from an unfamiliar ethnic group may indeed be dislikeable for legitimate reasons, but to generalise that into a stereotype of that entire group would only reveal that we personally lack enough, and deep enough, familiarity with that group as a whole.


Now advertisers, political candidates and (wannabe) celebrities, for instance, often purposely exploit this phenomenon of ‘familiarity breeds liking’ by repeatedly advertising themselves or their products and keeping their interests constantly in the spotlight in the media or wherever we look (the notion that ‘all PR is good PR’) – thus we must guard against this by never forgetting to apply reasoned arguments to our attitudes and decisions over intuitive heuristics such as ‘popularity’ or ‘familiarity’ automatically implying ‘correct’ or ‘safe’. But a lot of what people like or believe in is not a pure product of reason but because of e.g. what one’s peers like or believe in.


Meanwhile, proximity can sometimes breed hostility. Most assaults and murders involve people living close together – yet this should be somewhat logical because we’re more likely to physically argue or fight with someone who is nearby or in our space than someone in another town or halfway across the world(!) And in fact, much more often, when all else is equal – proximity actually kindles liking. The distance and even the direction of one’s front door on one’s street, or having an end-of-street house, dramatically affects the number of friends that tend to be made within a street (the drop-off between making friends with a direct neighbour to a neighbour two doors away is steep).


The people we first sit next to in class tend to be the people we stick with over the course of the school years, and maybe beyond. In the same way that we’re less likely to argue or fight with someone who is physically far away from us – it’s obviously hard or we’re less likely to meet, never mind like, someone who is physically far away from us (e.g. someone from a far away city or country). It costs less time and effort to receive the benefits of friendship with someone who lives and/or works nearby. Most people in the world will marry someone who lives nearby, works at the same place, sat in the same class, or visits the same favourite places, and this should be logical.


Online interactions are changing things, but still, it’s easier to physically connect at a deeper level with people we physically meet. Well of course people who first meet online sometimes physically meet up later to see if a deeper connection is there. Nonetheless, most people will still likely end up marrying someone who lives in the same country as them before they live together. Naturally there are many exceptions to this – there tends to be exceptions to the rule throughout the social sciences because there are more variables and complexity at play, and therefore more potential confounding factors for any results, compared to typical experiments in the natural sciences i.e. unfiltered real life is more messy, complicated and environments can change compared to isolated molecules or elements placed in controlled Petri dish or synchrotron environments. Still, there are often useful patterns in the data and one shouldn’t begin by assuming one is exceptional – without evidence of reasons why one should be considered, or is, exceptional, one should rationally assume one is most likely to be a median, mode or average data point when predicting outcomes because that’s where most people are or are around.


Even more important than mere distance is interaction though i.e. how often people’s paths actually cross (e.g. direct cooperation in class projects or at work). Interactions allow people to explore their similarities, things in common, to sense one another’s liking, exchange rewarding feelings (like laughter) and perceive themselves as part of a social unit. So if you’re new in a place and want to make friends – try to get a place near the mailboxes, a desk near the coffee pot or water cooler, or a parking spot near the main buildings, for instance i.e. a place where there’s a high footfall and chance of bumping into people.


Merely anticipating interaction can even boost liking – if, for example, we are expected to work with a new colleague coming in the next week, we’ll tend to like this person over some other person we also haven’t met yet but don’t anticipate working with (loyalties can form easily, quickly and often arbitrarily e.g. it can depend on random group assignments, or teams specifically selected by someone else, for a task or competition). The same generally happens with the anticipation of meeting a blind date (as long as one wasn’t forced against one’s will to do it, and of course once you both actually meet, opinions can change!) Although in these sorts of situations, holding preconceived negative stereotypes or pessimism against someone you’re about to meet can also come into play so that one isn’t disappointed by high expectations.


Anticipatory liking, in turn, tends to produce pleasant interactions because the other person picks up on this initial enthusiasm, which in turn increases the chance of forming a rewarding relationship. When we are stuck with or expected to stick with people whom we may not have chosen but need to have continuing interactions with, we tend to bias towards wanting to like them, which is incredibly helpful in life in most cases (but maybe not all e.g. abusive forced relationships).


For me, a small but close ‘Scooby-Doo gang’ of friends is my preference i.e. quality over quantity of friendships, where everyone in the group trusts everyone else and can depend on everyone else in the group. One may think that quality and quantity is best but a point comes when one’s time and attention will be overly diluted between too many people hence the quality of each relationship must necessarily drop. But along with one’s closest core group of friends, there is value in keeping loose friendships and acquaintances in one’s overall network (e.g. if you need to reach out broadly for unusual requests for help). Still, true friendships are not about the numbers, whether large or small, but the attention, love, trust and loyalties.


Maybe you’d like to share with us via the Twitter comment button below where and how you met your best friends or partner, and whether random chance (or fate if you’d prefer), such as what class you were assigned to in school or what office desk you were given at work, played a role in how you all first met?


Woof. I hope that Fluffystealthkitten and Furrywisepuppy, as friends, will become familiar furmiliars for everyone one day!


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