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How Sharing Rare Interests Sparks Unique Attraction

July 02, 2019DMT.NEWS


Born to Bond 

We are instinctively drawn to others with whom we share similar traits, interests, or even life experiences.  Meeting someone from the same hometown, who shares the same hobbies, or even the same birthday or wristwatch has been shown to increase liking.  But what about meeting someone with whom we share an interest that is unusual or unique? 

A substantial body of research reveals we are attracted to people we perceive as similar to ourselves. Among shared traits, however, there are apparently some that attract us more than others.  Consequently, a more focused issue relates to the extent of interpersonal similarity—particularly when the similarity concerns a trait, attitude, or interest that is uncommon.  

Sure enough, research distinguishes between bonding over traits that are widely shared, versus those that we uniquely share with a select group of others.

Unusual Birds of a Feather: The Attraction of Shared Rarity  

Image by Gipfelsturm69 from Pixabay
Source: Image by Gipfelsturm69 from Pixabay

Hans Alves, in a piece entitled “Sharing Rare Attitudes Attracts” (2018), examined the types of shared attitudes that cause individuals to bond more quickly.[i]  He begins by recognizing prior research establishing that people are attracted to each other when they share even incidental similarly—such as a name, birthday, or type of fingerprint.  He then goes on to discuss the impact of shared rarity, as prior research indicates it appears to be rare but not common incidental similarity that enhances interpersonal attraction and increases compliance.  

He cites the example of being told you share a fingerprint type with another person, and liking them when told sharing the type was rare, but not when told sharing the type was common.  In explaining this phenomenon, he cites the previously established concept of “unit relationship,” where people bond through sharing an attribute that is not shared by others. 

One example he cites from prior research is two Californians viewing themselves in a unit relationship if they meet in North Carolina, but not if they meet in Los Angeles.  Many travelers can relate to this phenomenon—particularly in meeting people from our hometown when we are far away from that location.  Perhaps the farther away we are, the stronger we feel a connection. 

Alves gives another practical example: sharing that you like The Beatles, a preference you likely share with many others of all age groups in an era of easily accessible music.  He contrasts this with meeting someone who shares your passion for a virtually unknown musical artist, a scenario that is much more likely to spark further conversation.  

These same principles apply to many different types of interests, which no doubt explains why we are drawn to others with whom we appear to share unique tastes.   But how exactly does this work?

Rarity Likes Company

Many people feel comfortable in the company of similar others—particularly when they share views or values.  Alves notes that the basic human need to affiliate may lead people to seek validation through others who share their attitudes.  Because individuals might fear being ostracized if they believe they are the only one who holds a certain view, meeting a kindred spirit can prompt a feeling of belongingness, particularly when meeting someone who shares an attitude that is not common, but rare.  

Alves´ research sought to explore the explanation for the dynamics of shared attitudes, both rare and common, across domains that are likely to come up in conversation when meeting strangers either on or offline.

Recognizing that dating websites and other social media platforms rely on users bonding through shared interests, Alves compared sharing common interest versus sharing rare interests.  He compared shared interests in hobbies, movies, and musicians, as well as recent “likes” of Facebook pages, and examples of common and rare interests related to movies, musicians, hobbies, travel, reading, and food/beverages.

Consistent with his hypothesis, across all experiments, he found that sharing rare interests has the potential to elicit stronger interpersonal attraction than common interests. He notes this finding might have important implications to using online dating services.  

Relationship Building: Rating Rarity

The allure of rarity is a double-edged sword.  As a prosecutor, I am well aware of deviant websites geared to the criminally minded who share dangerous views that are socially and legally unacceptable.  On the other hand, even websites dedicated to sports, faith, food, pets, and other wholesome interests, which are wildly popular because they bring people together through shared interests, demonstrate that more unique interests spark a more passionate band of followers.  Extreme sports, exotic travel, and specialty cooking are examples of non-deviant, unique interests that may energize and solidify the bond among group members.

Research, which indicates that shared rarity can increase interpersonal interest, liking, and bonding, should be considered within the broader context of relationship formation. The caveat in any scenario where we are meeting new people, is to verify the veracity of information shared. Someone who really does share your passion to visit Machu Piccu is more likely to be a frequent traveler than someone without a passport.  Trust but verify, and socialize with discernment. 

Research reveals the allure of uncommon traits
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[i]Alves, Hans. “Sharing Rare Attitudes Attracts.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 44, no. 8 (2018): 1270–83. 



wpatrick, Khareem Sudlow

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