Observation

Linguistic Similarities Build Friendships and Echo Chambers

People with traits, interests, and experiences in common are more likely to become friends, and findings in Psychological Science indicate that friends also influence one another’s linguistic styles over time, contributing to the relational “echo chambers” common on social media and in society as a whole.

“A key driver of social interaction is the principle of homophily: ‘birds
of a feather flock together,’” write Balazs Kovacs (Yale University) and colleague Adam M. Kleinbaum (Dartmouth College). “We suggest that the causal arrow points in the other direction as well: In addition to linguistic similarity driving tie formation, friendship ties will also induce increases in linguistic similarity.”

Kovacs and Kleinbaum investigated this cyclical relationship through a set of two complementary studies: one analyzing the linguistic styles and in-person social networks of graduate students and another following the relationships between users of the online review platform Yelp.

In the university study, Kovacs and Kleinbaum compared the linguistic styles of 285 first-year graduate students using both their application essay and an exam essay written 2 months later. The researchers also collected information about students’ social networks within the graduate program at both time points.

In line with previous findings, Kovacs and Kleinbaum found that students who began the semester with more similar linguistic styles were also more likely to report spending free time together and were more likely to remain friends if they had already formed a connection at the beginning of the program. Additionally, students who became friends early in the program demonstrated more similar linguistic styles during the written exam.

See a longer version of this article.

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