Are most of your friends from your residence hall, classes or extracurricular activities? Georgetown’s small student population, compared with other universities, encourages contact between students of different majors and interests. Though we may interact frequently with those who have different passions and courses of study, do we befriend or become romantically involved with them? Or do we stick with classmates in our major and those who are generally more similar to us?

The familiar sights of pre-med students studying together in Lauinger Library and basketball players sharing a table in O’Donovan Hall seem to disprove the idea that opposites attract. However, research suggests that factors other than similarity contribute significantly to people’s choice of friends and partners.

Some of the first people you meet at Georgetown are those who live on your floor in your residence hall. During the first weeks of the school year, packs of freshmen floormates travel between parties on campus. Some of these friend groups last beyond these initial excursions and carry through the rest of the students’ time at Georgetown. The psychology behind this phenomenon derives from proximity. Physical nearness increases the opportunity for people to get to know each other. In the case of freshman floormates, proximity has nothing to do with their similarity, so friendships may develop between people with dissimilar or even opposite interests and personalities.

The amount of time spent with people also influences the likelihood of becoming friends with them. People tend to prefer that which is familiar to them more than that which is unfamiliar. The numerous hours you spend with the same people in the common room or behind the counter at your job in the Residence Hall Office increases your comfort with them, which in turn increases how much you like them.

However, proximity and frequent exposure alone do not explain friendships within members of the field hockey team or among marketing majors. Similarity also contributes to attraction. Psychologists find that people whose personalities and backgrounds are similar, rather than opposite, are more compatible and thus become and stay friends.

Extracurricular activities and majors tend to attract students with similar interests and, arguably, similar personalities. New Student Orientation leaders are generally outgoing, just as most justice and peace studies majors are socially conscious. It is no surprise that social groups form among members of the same activities and areas of study.

Similarities in culture and background also boost attraction. International students from the same city or country may stick together because their common experiences and backgrounds make them more compatible with each other. Students who live in Bayit, Georgetown’s Jewish Living Learning Community, may draw their personal values from their faith, and thus have similar ideals, which make them more likely to become friends.

The same is true for romantic partners. In particular, the tendency for people to marry within the same or similar socioeconomic level and level of education may explain why — rumor has it — 70 percent of Hoyas marry other Hoyas. Given that 51 percent of Georgetown students come from families with incomes in the top 5 percent, and 74 percent of students come from families in the top 20 percent, it would be unsurprising if Georgetown students really do tend to marry one another. Likewise, since Georgetown may attract a greater proportion of Catholic students than do secular institutions, Georgetown students may be more likely to marry one another or form relationships because many share a Catholic faith.

Perhaps similarity plays the biggest role in the formation of friendships and relationships. In many cases, people’s proximity and frequent exposure to one another results from similarities between them. Students with similar personalities and interests join the same organizations and choose the same courses of study which leads to them sharing space and coming into more frequent contact. This close proximity and frequent exposure further enhances the attraction that their similarity produces. Floormates, classmates in core curriculum courses and co-workers with jobs unrelated to their interests are exceptions. But perhaps even within groups that are not based on similarity, students tend to befriend those who have similar personalities to them.

The wide range of organizations on campus, from the GU Improv Association to club water polo, as well as the university’s schools and majors, demonstrates that not all Georgetown students are alike — far from it, in fact. Georgetown’s major-specific classes, religious groups and interest-based clubs bring similar people together, who form lasting relationships. But there are also opportunities for dissimilar people to interact and hit it off; that girl you always run into in the bathroom on your floor could become your best friend. While opposites may not always, or even often, attract, Georgetown certainly creates spaces and opportunities for them to do so.

Vera Mastrorilli is a junior in the College. This is the first installment of TESTING TRUISMS.

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  1. Pingback: TESTING TRUISMS: 70 Percent of Hoyas Marry Hoyas: Fact or Fiction?

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