Learning, Psychology


There is a sense of the internet as a unifying force, creating a forum for diverse information and viewpoints. Yet, while the internet allows the curious to discover most anything they search out, most people tend towards clustering in like minded groups, a behavior known as homophily.

Search engines are a wonderful tool for the curious. You find anything that you’re interested in, anything that you’re excited by, but there’s no guarantee that what you’re interested in is going to expand over time…We have a very strong tendency to pay attention to the people who are already close to us. [3]

Homophily, meaning “love of the same” describes the human predisposition to associate with people who share communities—economic, cultural, religious, etc. The term was coined back in 1954 by Lazarsfeld and Merton in an essay, “Friendship as a Social Process”. It has become a popular term in describing the polarizing effects of politics and information discovery on the internet. “Ever larger numbers of people seem to be sealing themselves off in worlds where everyone thinks the way they do.” [2]

While the internet allows users to find their niche, it also enables them to exclude outside sources of news, views, and values. While the internet has long been considered a “signal to noise” challenge—with so much information, how do you find what is relevant?—with search and recommendation engines, the new challenge is how to expand those horizons. As Ethan Zuckerman, director of the MIT Center for Civil Media, observes, “The rise of the read/write web turns the problem of paying attention to the rest of the world from a supply to a demand problem. You can find Brazilian, Bengali and Bulgarian voices, but only if you bother looking for them, stumble across them or are led to them by creators and curators of content.” [2] Thus, it remains the responsibility of individuals to take the initiative to expand their own horizons.

If you ask the average person why they believe what they believe…you are not going to get a coherent answer. We participate in settings where we don’t have to explain ourselves because everyone else agrees with us. What this means is, “I have no reason to challenge or question my own beliefs.”

- Mario Luis Small
University of Chicago[1]


1 Vedantam, Shankar. “Why Everyone You Know Thinks the Same as You.” The Washington Post. 16 Oct. 2006. Web.

2 Zuckerman, Ethan. “Homophily, Serendipity, Xenophilia.” Web log post. …My Heart’s in Accra. N.p., 25 Apr. 2008. Web. 8 Sept. 2013.

3 Zuckerman, Ethan. “Why Global Stories Matter.” Interview by Brooke Gladstone. On The Media. WNYC. 93.9 FM, New York, New York, 28 Aug. 2013. Radio.

Learn More

Homophily.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Aug. 2013. Web. 08 Sept. 2013.

Retica, Aaron. “Homophily.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 10 Dec. 2006. Web. 08 Sept. 2013.

McPherson, Miller, Lynn Smith-Lovin, and James M. Cook. “Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks.” Annual Review of Sociology 27 (2001): 415-44. JSTOR. Web. 08 Sept. 2013.

Golub, Benjamin, and Matthew O. Jackson. “Network Structure and the Speed of Learning: Measuring Homophily Based on Its Consequences.” Annals of Economics and Statistics 107.108 (2012): 22-48. Web.

Expand your own horizons

The following are a few sources to expose new concepts, news, etc.

Global Voices – a website devoted to translating news articles from around the world.
Ted – videos of stimulating talks by extraordinary people.
This Will Make You Smarter – a book featuring short essays to introduce concepts to expand your world view.


One thought on “Homophily

  1. Pingback: Diversity matters- Project Implicit- THE GAP BETWEEN INTENTIONS AND ACTIONS – DARE Take The Test | BONNIE SANDY IN DeMarketplace

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