You are out for the evening.  At a club or a bar.  And you see groups of young men and women together (or older men and women).  And, they all look the same.  Do people choose friends who are similar to them, or do friends “grow” more similar together?

The answer is: both.

It is a well-known finding that we choose friends who are similar to us in background and attitudes, a psychological phenomenon known as homophily.  But recent research has found that the faces of group members are more similar than non-group members.  In one of the studies, participants submitted photos of their friends faces.  Detailed measurement of the faces found that friends had more similar facial structures and features than compared to non-friends.

Yet, there is more to this process than simply choosing people who look like us as friends.  We also “grow” to look more alike.  Friends may choose to dress alike, use the same brands and application of makeup, and may imitate friends’ hairstyles. 

Subtle nonverbal factors also come into play.  People may unconsciously mimic their friends’ typical facial expressions, or their body language, such as gestures, posture, and their gait.  Over time, there is the possibility that friends faces become more alike because of using similar facial expressions – lots of frowning, or laughing, or looks of disgust, may actually lead to changes in facial patterns.

So, the next time you see a group of people that look like clones of one another, there are strong psychological reasons for it.

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Hehman, E., Flake, J.K., & Freeman, J.B.  (2017).  The faces of group members share physical resemblance.  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (published on-line 8-17).

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