Friendships in Jamaica Plain are unusually diverse, apparently because of the high value JPers place on the ideal of diversity, according to a new study by Wellesley College psychology professor Angela Bahns.
“People in Jamaica Plain said they value diversity more,” Bahns told the Gazette. “They have motivation…to step outside their comfort zones.”
“Diversity” in this case means differences on political, religious and social issues or “attitudes.”
The study, which compared friendships in JP and the North End, was carried out via surveys of pairs of friends encountered on the street in various neighborhood spots. JP’s population is more diverse than the North End’s in terms of race, ethnicity and income, Bahns said. It turns out that JP friendships are more diverse than those in the North End.
That is actually a surprise, Bahns said. Previous social research shows that in more diverse places, people typically have less diverse friendships. That is probably because with so many friendship choices, people can find “people exactly like them,” Bahns said.
But in JP, Bahns said, “That’s not what we found. We found the opposite.”
JP friends also said they valued diversity more than their North End counterparts, which appears to explain why JP bucked the trend. JPers “put their money where their mouth is” on diverse friendships, Bahns said.
The study did not determine why the JP subjects valued diversity more. She was interested to hear from the Gazette that “diversity” is one of the neighborhood’s favorite buzzwords and marketing terms.
Bahns specializes in researching prejudice, and the study will inform practical efforts to teach people about the value of diversity. Friendships are “one of the best ways to reduce prejudice, or at least reduce inter-group conflict,” Bahns said.
The study is called “Fostering Diverse Friendships: The Role of Neighborhood Norms and Beliefs about the Value of Diversity.” JP and the North End were chosen to be surveyed by looking at more and less diverse Boston neighborhoods in U.S. Census data.
The survey asked about 100 pairs of people, who had to be friends and Boston residents, about their political and religious beliefs. The survey asked the subjects how much they value diversity and how often they attend events that expose them to a diverse group of people. It also asked about their attitudes or prejudices about the Protestant work ethic, female contraception, abortion, welfare, gay people, Muslims, prostitutes and fat people.
The surveys were conducted by assistants Lauren Springer and Carla Thé earlier this summer. Contacted earlier by the researchers, the Gazette provided them with general advice about good survey spots in the neighborhood without knowing the exact nature of the research.