Researchers have used high-definition video cameras on the roof of a large indoor stadium to track how strangers formed groups.
They found that individuals were likely to join groups containing members with similar physical traits – including levels of attractiveness. The researchers also discovered that attractive women were the most likely to be placed in the physical centre of social groups. The study in the journal, PLOS ONE, involved researchers at the University of Otago, New Zealand; the University of Oxford, UK; the University of Maryland, USA; and a computer animation company. Their paper also finds that individuals standing closest to others were most likely to shirk group tasks. This supports previous research on “social loafing”, a phenomenon whereby the presence of others appears to impede helping behaviour.
Previously, little empirical research has been done into the critical point at which groups form, although a wealth of literature suggests that groups do not assemble randomly but individuals are drawn to those they identify with. Researchers filmed and tracked sets of 40-50 strangers, to see how they interacted in a space of 600m2. A total of 172 students took part, knowing they were participating in a social science experiment and that they might be filmed. They were not told the purpose of the experiment and did not know their movements would be tracked.