How are your friends like you?

Relaxing on this very hot morning (Tuesday 19th July) with a cup of tea and my usual aural entertainment – BBC 6Music – one of my favourite features came on; Sophie Scott’s Maths of Life. The topic of discussion was ‘what makes a friendship?’ and, in her usual engaging and jovial style, Sophie presented a range of relevant research findings.

There were several demographic factors that people tend to be drawn to in others (statistically speaking) such as similarity of age, gender and ethnicity, and this attraction to similarity is called ‘homophily’; however, she focused in on a study by Evolutionary Psychologist, Robin Dunbar, who suggested that there are ‘7 Pillars of Friendship’. Dunbar found that stronger friendships are formed when people are similar on the following factors:

  1. Language (or even better – a common dialect)
  2. Place of origin – where you grew up
  3. Educational trajectory
  4. Hobbies and interests
  5. Worldview – values, morals, politics, religion
  6. Sense of humour
  7. Musical tastes

What was interesting in Dunbar’s research was that personality was not found to be a factor in the forming of close friendships.  Personally, I believe that having a group of friends with diverse personality types is great, and some of my closest friends are my shadow opposites in Myers-Briggs terms.  However, as an INTJ, I do get a different sense of connection with my friends who share my preference for Ni – but that is with my friends who have this preference.  I have met many other Ni types in life that I have felt no connection to. So there must be some other ingredient to get that special connection, as suggested by Dunbar. 

One thing I have noticed is that, based on the Enneagram instinctual variants (Self-preservation, Social, Sexual), when I meet people who have the same instinct as me, there tends to be more of an instant connection and the majority of my most comfortable friendships tend to be with people who have the same dominant instinct.  

If you are familiar with this aspect of Enneagram theory I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Having a deep interest in combining Myers-Briggs personality types with Ego Development stage theory (e.g. Loevinger; Cook-Greuter), I have often made the suggestion that we are likely to connect with people who are mostly operating from a similar stage to ourselves.  Being at a similar stage can give us some broad personality and cognitive factors in common, such as emotional intelligence, ability to deal with ambiguity, acceptance of difference, openness and adaptability.  For more on ego development theory see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCaX-I3ND58

Looking further into this idea of the factors that influence friendship, I came across an article by Andreas Hofer (May 22nd 2021) who, also in reference to Dunbar’s 7 Pillars theory, stated that he noticed his students tended to choose to sit next to those who shared Myers- Briggs types that were similar on at least two preferences, and would sit away from those who were very different. (Interestingly, the INTJs typically had an empty seat next to them … no comment …).   Perhaps being students, they are all at a similar stage of ego development and this can create a connection that makes the role of personality more prevalent in the formation of friendships.

So it seems that the formation of strong friendships is complex and is influenced by a combination of the homophiliy factors, the 7 pillars, personality type, dominant instinct, and a few other as yet unidentified variables, but mediated by age and, therefore, connecting to stage of ego development.

So, in my usual Ni style I am striving to connect everything to everything – it’s my idea of fun. 

I welcome any thoughts on this matter.

 Dr Angelina Bennet

19th July 2022

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