How Diverse Is Your Social Network? The Answer May Reveal Something About Your Values

April 15, 2015
students in dorm room

People who place a higher value on diversity are more likely to have friends of different races, religions, and classes, as well as friends with different sociopolitical views – this according to a new study by Wellesley’s Angela Bahns, assistant professor of psychology, co-authored by Lauren S. Springer ’14 and Carla The ’15.

The study employed a broad conception of diversity in order to highlight “how celebrating differences of many kinds can promote the formation of diverse relationships.” According to Bahns, “Encouraging dialogue among people of differing backgrounds and beliefs can reduce prejudice and lead to a greater appreciation of diversity.” But can beliefs about the value of diversity contribute to diverse friendships?  

To assess individual attitudes and beliefs about a wide range of sociopolitical topics (including birth control, gay marriage, and prejudice towards various social groups, as well as beliefs about the value of social difference), the researchers distributed questionnaires to pairs of friends in two neighborhoods of Boston: Jamaica Plain and the North End. The two communities were chosen because of high and low degrees of racial and income diversity, respectively. Although participants in the more diverse Jamaica Plain on average valued diversity more highly, participants in both neighborhoods who recognized the benefits of diversity were more likely to have diverse friendships.

Previous studies have suggested that racially diverse communities are more likely to foster interracial friendships, or that larger and diverse communities are more likely to foster attitudinally similar relationships because it becomes easier to select similar friends when one has access to many different social choices. The Wellesley study is one of the first to suggest that positive beliefs about diversity may increase the likelihood of seeking out diverse friends.

The study, “Fostering Diverse Friendships: The Role of Beliefs about the Value of Diversity” was published online by Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, a Sage Publications journal. The Brachman Hoffman Fund at Wellesley College supported the research.