Common Interests Create Connections

By Mathew Luschek
|  Sunday, Feb 13, 2011  |  Updated 3:30 PM PDT
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Stanford Doctors in Haiti

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It's not as easy to get away with those indiscretions as it used to be.

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Psychologists at Stanford may have found something to help us understand why we connect more with some people than others.

Researchers have found that having a few common interests with another person actually helps create a measurable connection.

In one experiment the researchers had 70 women fill out a questionnaire asking them to list a few favorite things. Later each woman was introduced to a confederate who worked for the University and was in on the experiment.

The confederate, knowing what was on each list, pretended to share those interests with some women, and not at all with others. Later the confederate told the participant they were supposed to give a speech as part of the experiment, but they were very bad at speeches. The confederate acted very anxious and nervous.

"We had the confederate act really freaked out," said David Cwir, a doctoral candidate at the University of Waterloo and lead author of the paper.

The subjects who believed they shared a common interest with the confederate reported a 28 percent increase in stress over the subjects who believed they had no shared interests.

"The test subjects literally incorporated the feelings of the confederate into their own feelings," Cwir said. "Just by finding out they shared a few things in common was enough to create this psychological and emotional merging."

"It is surprising that we found these reactions happening between strangers," said Priyanka Carr, a doctoral candidate at Stanford who conducted another related experiment. "But it shows that we're built to connect with other people. Our selves are not isolated from everyone around us. We're meant to have relationships, to feel what our partners feel."

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