Angela Bahns, Wellesley College – Similarities in Relationships

BAHNS-SQUARECan you change your partner over time or should you find someone you click with right away?

Angela Bahns, assistant professor of psychology at Wellesley College, explains that birds of a feather do

Crandall for SPSSI 3

Chris Crandall – co-author on the segment

flock together, but only if they’re similar from the beginning of the relationship.

Angela Bahns, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Wellesley College, is a social psychologist doing research on similarity and diversity in friendship networks and the justification of prejudice. Prof. Bahns’s research seeks to examine the factors that promote diverse friendships and to understand how and when the cognitive and behavioral components of prejudice develop—information that is critical to reducing prejudice and improving intergroup relations. To do this, her research examines attitude similarity and diversity in friendship networks, focusing on the individual-level and community-level factors that affect friendship choices. Prof. Bahns also studies the ways that cognitive factors such as stereotypes and perceptions of threat are used to justify prejudice.

Prof. Bahns holds a Ph.D. from the University of Kansas and a B.A. from Pomona College. She was named an Emerging Diversity Scholar by the National Center for Institutional Diversity at the University of Michigan. Prof. Bahns is an active member of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, the Association of Psychological Science, and the American Psychological Association.

Similarities in Relationships


When people say “birds of a feather flock together,” they mean that people like to be around others who share their likes, values, and beliefs—and decades of research supports this.

On the other hand, people also believe that friends and partners shape each other—you influence your friends, and your friends influence you. We researched the question, “Are friends and partners similar when they first meet, or does similarity grow as people get to know each other better?”

My colleague Chris Crandall and I surveyed more than 3,000 people who were with another person in public spaces and asked them about their attitudes, personalities, and activity choices. They were also asked how long [they had known each other] and how well they knew each other. The results showed pairs were similar on almost everything we measured.

What we really wanted to know, however, is whether similarity increased with how long they’d known each other? It did not. Or did it increase with how close they were to each other? It did not. Were attitudes more similar if they had talked about them more? They were not.

We found people in relationships do not change each other much over time. Instead, people are selecting friends who share their attitudes, their values, and their preferences from the get-go.

This allows us to create a social world that meets our needs. Similar friends provide comfort and a stable sense of self. But there are drawbacks, too. Surrounding yourself with like-minded others means you are limiting your exposure to diverse people and ideas. Nevertheless, our research suggests similarity-seeking is extremely common – so common, in fact, there may be a biological advantage to it.

Read More:
[PsycNET] – Similarity in Relationships as Niche Construction
[Open Science Framework] – Similarity as Niche Construction


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