Science Explains Why Mixers are Useless

Like everyone else, I like to be right — but in a sickening twist on this universal desire, I especially like to be right about my (many) pessimistic predictions. Thus, I felt both gleeful and grim upon discovering research supporting a comment I made years ago about how “Breakfast Club” is a lie and my time at UCSD would not consist of connecting with fascinating strangers. 

The year was 2009, and my long-suffering best friend, trying to make me feel better about being headed to UCSD, remarked that our 30,000 enrollment would expose me to new and interesting friends. Nope, I replied, I hated parties. I was scared of people. I would not meet “lots of different people” at a big school. 

Sheer experience has proven my theory  true, as I spend 90 percent of my time with the same group of stressed-out Vonnegut lovers who won’t stop playing Sporcle games.

But it’s not just me; Ingram and Morris at Columbia University used electronic name tags to track the conversation at a mixer, and concluded that people do not mix. No matter how much people claimed that they were there to “meet new people,” they ended up talking to people they already knew, or those who are most similar, especially in terms of occupation. In other words, I shouldn’t expect that my experience at a kickback on Saturday — during which I spent most of the time talking to the one friend I brought — will change as I enter the work force. Ten years from now, I will attend professional mixers and the main difference will be the height of my heels and the length of my skirt.

Though this phenomenon is depressingly consistent across the population, research by Bahns, Pickett and Crandall at the University of Kansas shows that UCSD’s large enrollment actually makes it easier for us to stay socially isolated. Bahns et. al approached random students at five schools — the 25,000-enrollment University of Kansas, and four rural colleges with a median enrollment of 525 — to ask about their beliefs, politics and social networks. They found that the larger the school, the more likely each person was to have extremely similar friends. Small colleges force people to be friends with, essentially, whomever is around, and these friendships are closer and last longer despite the differences. In contrast, those at the University of Kansas, and us here at UCSD, use the choices offered by the large populations to find the exact people who are just like us.

So it turns out that all those freshmen events and RA mixers don’t matter much, as people simply gravitate toward their mirrors, and this holds true for everything from high school clubs to partisan politics. It’s intuitive, it’s easy, but it’s also sad, because by staying within the same social circle, we’re reinforcing our own values, and missing out on the potential of what else is out there.