Sometimes you meet someone, and you just know that you can communicate. It happens that you say hello to a new coworker or share small talk with a security officer, and you have an instant sense of connectedness. Most probably, you had that feeling with the closest of your friends or your romantic partners from the very first time you met. Here, I’ve gathered some possible reasons for that phenomenon from psychological research on interpersonal relationships.
Language Style Matching
Language style matching (LSM) refers to the idea that people are inclined to match conversation partners in linguistic style. Therefore, people with similar language use tend to have a greater sense of connection at their first interactions. They also tend to stay in contact because they enjoy each other’s way of talking. LSM is a measurable construct, and the rate of matching is determined through the similar usage of function words (like the underlined words in “He placed it on the table”), irrespective of context. So, although two people might have different backgrounds and might use other content words to talk about themselves, research shows that their function words will tend to be similar if they have that instant “click.”
Neurobiological factors may also play a role. In a 2018 study conducted at Dartmouth College, 42 volunteers watched short video clips while scientists measured their brain activity using fMRI. It turns out that people in close social relationships showed similar brain activity, including in the areas involved in emotion processing and selective attention, and even in regions in the inferior parietal lobe that have been linked to discerning others’ mental states. According to Thalia Wheatley of Dartmouth College, people in the same social network also show similar neural activity when processing the narrative content of stories and generally making sense of the world. Neural synchrony found in strangers can predict a desire for future contact in both parties. This finding may also be related to previous research that suggests people who use the same gestures tend to “click.” The rate of their neural synchrony as well as their behavioral synchrony also may increase the longer they stay in contact with each other.
Birds of a Feather Flock Together
They do. Feathers are essential cues for birds to recognize each other from afar, and they tend to come closer to each other if they sense that they have similar feather patterns. Humans also tend to use “feathers,” meaning that they use various cues to detect each other’s demographic characteristics, such as age, ethnicity, class or education level. There is a greater chance that will they instantly enjoy being with people who have the same such characteristics, since they tend to feel that they connect more with them.
Sometimes we meet a stranger at a vulnerable point in our lives, or our paths cross as we work toward a goal or solve a problem together. Psychological research has shown that sharing such situations creates a shared sense of vulnerability, and makes us tend to feel understood, more secure, and connected. In “Click: The Magic of Instant Connections,” author Ori Brafman also suggests that we can arbitrarily create such “vulnerable environments” through asking meaning-making questions, like “What’s something meaningful that’s happened to you in the last week?” in order to increase the sense of authenticity and appropriateness.
Shared Sense of Humor
Laughing together can create an illusion for people that they get on well together, but sharing a sense of humor can initially make us feel connected as well. Research by Robin Dunbar of Oxford University reports significant effects of a similar sense of humor on later altruism. Looking at the subject from a different perspective, a study from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, involved having strangers watch videos and recording how much they laughed, or whether they just smiled or stayed neutral. Results showed that across the different videos, the amount of shared laughter had consistent effects with respect to the participants’ sense of similarity to the video partner and tended to make them desire future contact. “For people who are laughing together, shared laughter signals that they see the world in the same way, and it momentarily boosts their sense of connection,” says Sara Algoe, the social psychologist who authored the study.