How to make new friends

Dr. Mitja Back of the University of Leipzig conducted an interesting experiment on his psychology students once. On the first day of class, all 54 of his students are assigned random seats as soon as they enter the class room.

Then when class begins, they are asked to introduce themselves one-by-one. The rest of the class has to rate the student who introduces herself on two scales: how much they liked her. And if they would like to get to know her better.

After discounting for a few very attractive students, Dr. Back found that when people knew nothing about each other, they tended to rate the people who were sitting next to them more highly.

Dr. Back doesn’t stop the experiment there however. He waits for a year. And at the end of the year, he asks each student to rate everyone else again. The students have had an entire year to mingle with each other. They have had an entire year of sitting where they want. And hang out with whom they want after class. Surely the proximity of the student on that first day of class should have nothing to do with how friendly they were with people – right?

And yet, Dr. Back finds that initial proximity affects friendship. People who sat in the same row during that first day liked each other better. People who sat in the neighbouring seats liked each other even more. Most of the students were better friends with people they sat close to on that first day.

Action Summary:

  • Proximity affects friendships. Be sure to surround yourself with the right set of people on the first day of a new activity.
  • This is the reason why you should go to events and workshops early – before their starting time. Because it really matters who you meet first on a busy day. Its easier to become friends with organizers and mavens if you are the first person to tell them hello instead of the 31st person.