• There's science behind why most attendees end up spending the night chatting with familiar faces
  • By learning the science, you can learn how to initiate more authentic interactions
  • With Mixtroz, hosts can find new ways to engage with attendees from all walks of life so that every event it a success

People attend mixer events to make new connections. So why is it that most attendees end up spending the night chatting with familiar faces? 

According to a study conducted at Columbia University, we can thank a phenomenon known as “homophily,” or the tendency to gather with those who look like us. In the article, “Do People Mix at Mixers? Structure, Homophily, and the ‘Life of the Party,’” authors Paul Ingram and Michael W. Morris explain the art of gathering and the larger implications of homophily on our ability to meet new people. 

The study focused on a mixer attended by approximately 100 business people, including managers and current students in the Executive Masters of Business Administration (EMBA) program. Guests gathered on a Friday evening at the university’s reception hall in New York City. As guests arrived, they were given electronic name tags to track their interactions with other attendees based on the following factors: sex, race, physical attractiveness, job function, and alma mater. 

The question became: Will individuals in minimally structured environments initiate new and different connections, despite the tendency to interact with those who are similar to them?

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study revealed that guests did not mix as much as they intended. They were more likely to chat with friends than meet new people, despite stating their desire to do so before the event’s kickoff. 

So how can we use this information to encourage the delicate art of gathering? In this article, we take a closer look at the reasons people don’t naturally mix and how to initiate more authentic interactions using Mixtroz’s platform.

#1: We Gather with Those Who Look Like Us

Although the study did not reveal explicit homophily—that is, people choosing only to mix with those of similar characteristics—it did uncover “associative homophily,” or the tendency to approach new groups of people if one or more of the group members is of the same sex, race, or nationality. 

The findings of this study are fascinating. They seem to explain why people may be reluctant to introduce themselves in new group settings. On the other hand, the study also offers an optimistic outlook: If just two people can make a meaningful connection across gender, race, or other defining characteristics, others may feel more comfortable following suit.  

Participants gather with those who look like them because it provides additional comfort in an unfamiliar setting, even on a subconscious level. At the surface level, these basic similarities make people more open to interacting with strangers. 

#2: We Gravitate to Those with Similar Social Status

Beyond basic identity qualifiers, the study also found that people tend to gather based on shared life experiences, education levels, job functions, and religious or political affiliations, also known as “status homophily.” 

The authors cite a secondary study conducted by McPherson, Smith-Lovin, and Cook in 2001, in which the researchers argue that interaction is more common between similar actors. As they point out, these patterns are not only true in networking events or mixers, but also in the most intimate relationships of our lives, such as friendships to marriages. People want to build deeper connections with those they can relate to on an intellectual and emotional level, whether that is at an in-person or online event

Columbia researchers determined that homophily is most significant during initial interactions. But why? Simply put, people want substantive conversation without awkward small talk. Guests who share a similar background can more quickly dive into those deeper discussions.

#3: When We Are Uncomfortable, We Disengage

It can be disconcerting for attendees to walk into a room and not see anyone they know or who looks like them. As a result, the default is to disengage from the conversation and turn inward. It’s a coping mechanism, even if guests don’t realize they are doing it. But if attendees spend the night staring at their phones rather than forging new interactions, the art of gathering dissolves. 

Instead, hosts can find new ways to engage with attendees from all walks of life so that every event ends successfully. Mixtroz uses phone technology to transform the way people interact. As attendees arrive at an event, they are prompted to complete a questionnaire that informs who should collide with whom. Guests use their phones to aid—not impede—authentic interactions and build more meaningful connections. It’s networking, but without the work!

For more information about how Mixtroz can help you facilitate your next event, schedule a demo today.