How Shared Hatred Helps You Make Friends
People form quick and close bonds over shared dislikes — especially when what they hate is another person
You’re meeting someone for the first time — a friend of a friend. She seems pleasant. She mentions her love of burrito bowls and HGTV. You like burrito bowls. You like HGTV. This seems like a person you can get along with. But then she leans forward and, lowering her voice, confides that your mutual pal has been driving her nuts lately. Five minutes of shit-talking later, and you feel like you have a new best friend.
Since at least the 1940s, social psychologists have recognized that shared opinions — negative, as well as positive — can facilitate bonding between two strangers. But it was always assumed that if two people don’t know each other well, sharing positive attitudes is the best way to form a relationship. Negativity is a turnoff as well as a faux pas — or so the thinking went.
But a handful of recent studies have turned some of this conventional wisdom on its head. Sharing negative attitudes with someone — and, in particular, sharing negative opinions about other people — seems to be among the quickest and most effective ways for two strangers to form a bond. If you want to cozy up to someone, there may be no better way to do it than to gossip about the people you both hate.
“Similarity is a big attractor in general, so I don’t want to downplay the effectiveness of sharing likes,” says Jennifer Bosson, a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida. “But learning that you share a negative attitude has a stronger effect and facilitates liking more.”
Beginning in the early 2000s, several of Bosson’s experiments helped shift the thinking on the power negative opinions have in facilitating interpersonal bonding.
In a small 2006 study, she and colleagues asked participants to listen to a recorded conversation between a man and a woman — “Brad” and “Melissa” — and to write down one thing they liked and one thing they disliked about Brad. The participants then learned they would meet someone else taking part in the study who had completed the same listening exercise. Some participants were told…