Propinquity

birds of a feather

In social psychology, propinquity [proh-ping-kwi-tee] (from Latin: ‘nearness’) is one of the main factors leading to interpersonal attraction. It refers to the physical or psychological proximity between people. Propinquity can mean physical proximity, a kinship between people, or a similarity in nature between things (‘like-attracts-like’).

Two people living on the same floor of a building, for example, have a higher propinquity than those living on different floors, just as two people with similar political beliefs possess a higher propinquity than those whose beliefs strongly differ. Propinquity is also one of the factors, set out by Jeremy Bentham, used to measure the amount of (utilitarian) pleasure in a method known as felicific calculus (which is used to calculate the degree or amount of pleasure that a specific action is likely to cause).

The propinquity effect is the tendency for people to form friendships or romantic relationships with those whom they encounter often, forming a bond between subject and friend. Occupational propinquity based on a person’s career, is also commonly seen as a factor in marriage selection. Workplace interactions are frequent and this frequent interaction is often a key indicator as to why close relationships can readily form in this type of environment. In other words, relationships tend to form between those who have a high propinquity. It was first theorized by psychologists Leon Festinger, Stanley Schachter, and Kurt Back in what came to be called the ‘Westgate’ studies conducted at MIT (1950). The propinquity effect is usually explained by the mere exposure effect, which holds that the more exposure a stimulus gets, the more likeable it becomes.

Propinquity is one of the effects used to study group dynamics. For example, there was a British study done on immigrant Irish women to observe how they interacted with their new environments. This study showed that there were certain people with whom these women became friends much more easily than others, such as classmates, workplace colleagues, and neighbors as a result of shared interests, common situations, and constant interaction. For women who still felt out of place when they began life in a new place, giving birth to children allowed for different ties to be formed, ones with other mothers. Having slightly older children participating in activities such as school clubs and teams also allowed social networks to widen, giving the women a stronger support base, emotional or otherwise.

Various types of propinquity exist, varying from Industry/Occupational Propinquity, in which similar people working in the same field or job tend to be attracted to one another. Residential Propinquity, in which people living in the same area or within neighborhoods of each other tend to come together.Acquaintance Propinquity, a form of proximity in existence when friends tends to have a special bond of interpersonal attraction. Many studies have been performed in assessing various propinquities and their effect on marriage. The introduction of instant messaging and video conferencing has transcended propinquity. Online interactions have facilitated instant and close interactions with people despite a lack of material presence. This allows a notional ‘virtual propinquity’ to work on virtual relationships where people are connected virtually.

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