We Love What’s Familiar: Why This Sucks and What to do About it

We have all noticed it before: Chinese people hang out with other Chinese people, Germans with Germans, Indonesians with Indonesians. Consciously many of us don’t want it to happen. But it does anyways. And I am guilty of it, too. Even though I actively tried to avoid making friends with the Germans, the first good friend I got when I arrived in Australia three weeks ago is another German. Why the fuck is it always the same thing? WHY?

Because familiarity is one of the main factors of attraction

And no, with attraction I don’t mean only the one between men and women. We all had it before: we just really liked someone, whether it is a woman or a man, in the first five minutes after meeting him or her. And while there are many factors to it, familiarity is one of the main one’s.

So what do I mean by familiarity?

To understand this, let’s have a look at Kurt Mortensen’s “Maximum Influence”. In it he says that “familiar objects are more liked than less familiar one’s. The same holds true with people.” Yeah, it’s no wonder that the same goes for people, because it is just the case for every aspect of our live’s. Surely there are certain types of music you love, and others that you don’t. Have you ever tried to listen to those you don’t for, let’s say, more than 20 hours? Try it! I’m sure you will be surprised what happens. And the same thing goes with food, languages, learning how to write computer code and so on. No wonder it also works with people.

So, according to Kurt, we unconsciously ask ourselves four different questions whenever we meet somebody:

  1. “Does he or she think like me?
  2.   Does he or she share my morals?
  3.   Does he or she share my background?
  4.   Does he or she look like me?”

The more questions we answer with yes, and the more similar we are, the more do we like that person. And, I believe, it doesn’t come to a big surprise that we are more similar to those from our own country than we are to those who come from somewhere else. And that is the danger.

The better our first impression of somebody is, the more likely we are to like him or her and spend time together

Whenever we have a good impression of one of the other person’s characteristics, the so-called halo effect kicks in: we feel attracted to that person, we have positive feelings about him or her, and the level of trust is comparably high. So, I am sure you see where this is heading: simply because of our similarities with somebody from our own country, we tend to like him or her more on the long run. And that’s why we always see groups of people from the same country hang out with each other, even though they came abroad to get new experiences and meet people from all over the world.

Is there anything we can do to feel more connected to people from other countries?

Well, I’ve already hinted to where this is heading: use the law of familiarity to your advantage. Force yourself to meet people from that country. Join the local Vietnamese society or whatever country it is you are interested in. There’s just one catch to it. When you force yourself to meet people and you do not like them, you will also increase your negative biases towards them. Researchers a long time ago showed that just by living in one country and spending time with the local people, you do not automatically feel more positive about them. And yes, that’s what happens if your first impression is not good. It will probably never change. Now you also know the reason why so many expatriates go home very soon. They haven’t arrived in a new country with an open mind, and it never changes.



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