Birds and feathers: The role of homophily in conflict

From Stephanie West Allen’s blog on Neuroscience and conflict resolution .

Homophily makes it much more likely that we will communicate and associate with others we know to be similar. Many, many studies have been done on the theory of homophily showing that most communication occurs between people who are homophilous. Homophily is the degree to which people share certain attributes such as level of education, class, values, philosophy, and organizational role — the degree to which they are alike. Another name for homophily is the "birds of a feather" phenomenon.

Homophily occurs partly because communication is usually more effective when between two people who are similar. They share the same language meanings, beliefs, assumptions, and nuances. And interacting with someone similar typically is more comfortable and takes less effort.

In addition to taking more effort, communication between dissimilar individuals can lead to misunderstandings because of what is not held in common: e.g., beliefs, values, status, demographic variables. It can also lead to uncomfortable cognitive dissonance if you hold certain beliefs about those who are dissimilar and those beliefs are not confirmed, or when you are exposed to beliefs that are not your own.

Heterophily can lead to conflict. I bet you already know that one way among several to lessen that conflict can be to find some area of homophily. This search for similarity is nothing new to dispute professionals but understanding it by looking at the homophily tendency may remind us of the value of finding some commonality. Often a small commonality can create large strides towards resolution.

What does this have to do with neuroscience? Later this week, we will look at what happens in the brain when we think about someone we view as part of our flock as opposed to when we consider someone who is not a bird of the same feather.


                        author

Stephanie West Allen

Stephanie West Allen, JD, practiced law in California for several years, held offices in local bar associations, and wrote chapters for California Continuing Education of the Bar. While in CA, Stephanie completed several five-day mediation training programs with the Center for Mediation in Law, as well as a two-year intensive… MORE >

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