This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 16 table of contents.


A classic study of beginning friendship was reported by Theodore Newcomb in The Acquaintance Process (1961). Newcomb identified four factors that affect the probability of making an acquaintance.

What four factors influencing friendship did Newcomb identify?

1. Proximity. We are more likely to get to know somebody with whom we have regular contact.

2. Reciprocity. We like people who like us.

3. Similarity. We like people who share our values and beliefs.

4. Complementarity. We are attracted to people whose skills and abilities are complementary to our own. Complementary means different but compatible and mutually beneficial, like people with different skills who work together for a common purpose.

Which factor seems to be the most important predictor of friendship?

Which factor does research show to be most important? Probably the one that requires least effort or intelligence: proximity! Proximity is physical closeness or nearness. Obviously that can influence a friendship. We cannot get to like someone if we never see that person. On the other hand, if we see someone frequently, it is convenient and helpful to establish a friendly relationship.

What is some evidence that proximity plays a role in college friendships?

Accidental proximity is called propinquity, literally "the coincidence of being near." In several studies, propinquity was a powerful predictor of friendship. Priest and Sawyer (1967) studied students who moved into a newly constructed college dorm. After eight months, roommates were named as friends twice as often as floormates, floormates twice as often as students on other floors in the same dorm.

What did Segal do with police trainees?

Segal (1974) showed effects of propinquity by assigning police trainees to seats in alphabetical order. At the end of the term he asked them to name their three closest friends. The result was an almost perfect correlation between friendship choice and seating order.

What did Aronson and Linder discover in the "overheard comment" study?

Reciprocity, in studies of friendship, is liking someone who likes you. Reciprocity was manipulated in a study by Aronson and Linder (1965). Subjects "accidentally overheard" another subject, actually a confederate of the researcher, expressing liking or disliking of the subject. Then the subject was asked to fill out a questionnaire that expressed liking or disliking for the confederate. The questionnaire mirrored the overheard comments. A confederate who had made positive comments about the subject was liked; one who made bad comments was disliked.

A third group heard the confederate start by making bad comments and end by making good comments. These subjects, who thought they had "won him over," gave the confederate the highest ratings of all.

How did Byrne demonstrate the power of similarity, using a paper and pencil test?

Newcomb, in his intensive study of students in a special rooming house, found similarity to be a powerful factor in accounting for friendships. Roommates selected as being similar were much more likely to end up being friends. Byrne (1961) showed the same thing in paper-and-pencil fashion. He gave subjects a description of another person and asked how much they thought they would like the person described on the paper. The more closely the "other person" resembled the subject, the more the subject expected to like the other person.

What did research show about similarity and complementarity?

It is harder to find evidence for the power of complementarity—being different in a good way. Meyer and Pepper (1971) found similarity was a better predictor of marital happiness than complementarity, in couples married up to five years. However, Wagner (1975) found that camp counselors liked each other better if they had complementary needs (for example, one needing to dominate, the other needing to be directed).

Long-married couples testify that complementarity is important in some dimensions, similarity in others. Whether complementarity or similarity seems more important depends on which dimensions are measured. For example, similarity might be important when measuring sense of humor or religious outlook, while complementary may be more important in areas like temperament or choice of domestic responsibilities.

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