Feb 23, 2011
Have you ever met someone for the first time and during a conversation you find out that you share some esoteric interests in common with that person? The excitement and sense of connection that results from such an encounter is something that I think we can all relate to. But why does sharing common interests with others tend to lead to such a sense of companionship? One answer to that question is that relationships are an important part of human life. From the minute we are born, we are completely dependent on others to take care of our basic needs in order to survive. As we grow up, others play a crucial role in our development as we learn from those around us and adopt many of our values and beliefs from them. Social interaction is an important part of our well-being, and it seems that we are made for participating in community with others.
In a recent paper to be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, my colleagues and I found that when people find out that they share a few idiosyncratic preferences in common with another person (e.g., a favorite author or musician), it not only results in a sense of connection with that person, but it also causes them to share emotions and physiological states. In one study, we found that if people share a few things in common with someone who is subsequently asked to complete a stressful task, they indicate feeling more stress themselves relative to people who did not share anything in common with that person. In another study, we found that watching someone else exercise tends to increase people’s own heart rate and blood pressure if they first find out that they share a few things in common with that person.
Why would this happen? One reason is that sharing psychological states with others enables us to interact and communicate with them by helping us to understand where they are coming from. It would be rather difficult to engage in even a simple conversation with others if we didn’t have at least some capacity to share psychological states with them so as to respond in an appropriate manner. So I think that social connections are formed rather easily when we find out that we share something unique in common with someone else because it makes the possibility of developing a successful relationship with that person seem more likely. Therefore, common interests might lead people to share emotional and physiological states to help them interact and communicate with each other, which would ultimately facilitate the establishment of a meaningful relationship.
David Cwir is a doctoral candidate in psychology at the University of Waterloo.