Studying the factors that bring people together creates a serious challenge for researchers. Do friendships form because of shared interests, or do those interests develop due to the friendship? A research team has now tracked a set of college students across all four years, using Facebook to identify social ties. The study reveals that people are fundamentally a bit lazy, as proximity provided the strongest predictor of social ties. Once that was accounted for, however, shared tastes in music and film did promote friendships, while books had a minimal effect.
When it comes to being influenced by their friends, the students generally weren't. The exceptions were two genres of music: people liked classical and jazz pieces found via their friends, and those with interests in alternative music acted just like stereotypical hipsters, shying away from things that were popular with their friends.