The science behind contempt?
July 28, 2011 4:00 AM   Subscribe

Familiarity breeds contempt. (But why?)

In bands, workplaces, relationships, households, friendships, cohesion can fall apart. Shortcomings once ignored mature to secret resentments, to be blurted out hatefully, given enough provocation. Every little tick, habit, and word of the other person becomes an intolerable act of malevolence. The sheer anticipation of such an annoyance can be enough to set one off.

Eventually, and evidently not soon enough, such relationships finally unravel, and individuals go their separate ways, each cursing a person they once liked, admired, loved, or at least tolerated.

Has attention been given by psychologists, neurologists, etc., specifically to the process of familiarity breeding contempt? I’m interested in articles, books, etc., which analyze this arc.
posted by evil holiday magic to Human Relations (9 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Yep.
posted by Drama Penguin at 4:13 AM on July 28, 2011

Are you interested specifically in the expression "familiarity breeds contempt", or more generally in social-psychology analyses of why people who spend a lot of time together sometimes end up hating each other? In its original usage the expression is a reference to the military; the word "familiarity" means casual fraternisation between people of different ranks rather than just people knowing each other well, and "contempt" refers to lack of respect rather than hatred.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:27 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Drama Penguin
Thanks. I'll look it over. Looks expensive if I don't know exactly what to buy.

A Thousand Baited Hooks
The source of the idiom is interesting, but I'm more curious about the social/psychological process.
posted by evil holiday magic at 4:32 AM on July 28, 2011

Not all of those papers are behind paywalls. There are PDF links to many of them, explore the results.
posted by Drama Penguin at 4:35 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

The phrase is a translation of a saying attributed to Publius Syrus, a first-century BC writer of maxims. Shakespeare seems to have referenced it in Merry Wives of Windsor, Act I, sc. i.
posted by valkyryn at 4:42 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just tried a search on RefSeek and it brought up an article from something called PsyBlog. The article's grammar looks rather sketchy, but it may have some interesting ideas.

"Once we perceive a dissimilarity, it's all downhill from there. Even traits we might have liked, or been neutral about before, now get the thumbs down.But
what the researchers were interested in this time was the effect of similarity on whether we like others. This is because much previous research has shown
that we tend to like other people who are similar to ourselves. The results showed that what was driving the connection between knowledge and dislike was
a lack of similarity. Effectively the more traits participants knew about another 'person', the more likely they were to find dissimilarities with themselves,
and so the more likely they were to dislike them."

posted by Net Prophet at 5:09 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Net Prophet's blog article and quote are referring to a paper from Drama Penguin's Google Scholar query that is available as a free PDF here.
posted by whatnotever at 8:34 AM on July 28, 2011

Someone once told me that what we do not like in others is a direct reflection of what we do not like within ourselves. If this is true, then it lends credence to the whole "familiarity breeds contempt" and that saying "opposites attract".
posted by twinA at 10:43 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Actually, proximity breeds attraction - so one (wo)man's contempt is another's ideal mate.

There's a lot more at play to this than you think; frequency of visibility matters, too (this explains why mediocre-looking celebrities rise to much-emulated paragons of beauty over time).

In other words, familiarity breeds LIKING, not contempt. At least, from a physical attraction/relationship standpoint.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:20 PM on July 28, 2011

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