Whether it was your freshmen year randomly selected roommate, the international student you lived with while you were abroad, or the friend of a friend you chose to sublet an apartment with for the summer, each one has left their mark. Defining the specific role of a roommate is difficult because each one affects us in different ways; however, they each shape us as individuals more than we may think.
In a recent article published by The Atlantic, Olga Khazan studied the influence that roommates have on our moods and tendencies. Inspired by a freshmen year roommate who eventually became her best friend, Khazan examined the possibility that a roommate can both positively and negatively affect his or her counterpart.
Using a study from the University of Michigan’s health management professor, Daniel Eisenberg, Khazan reported that mental states with more negative connotations, like anxiety, are more easily transmitted between roommates. The study also suggested that depression is more easily transmitted between boys than girls. On the other hand, emotional states that are representative of happiness were not found to travel between roommates to the same extent.
Eisenberg also found, among a group of test subjects in the class of 2013, that a roommates’ drinking tendencies affected the way his or her roommate chose to drink. The same trend was not found among students in terms of drugs, smoking, and similar habits. Additionally, those closest to us affect our health and nutrition habits, but not always in a positive way. Another study from the University of Michigan found that students who chose to partake in frequent diets would often influence their roommates to do the same, whether intentionally or not.
Finally, personalities and even linguistic tendencies can rub off between roommates. In a study from 2006 of 102 pairs of freshmen girls, many of them exhibited similarly warm, submissive, dominant, and/or hostile behaviors. This demonstrates the fact that roommates can become more alike throughout their time together. Furthermore, linguistic convergence can occur between any roommates, but especially those that are better friends.
These findings make sense to those of us who have experience in this realm. Especially considering the tendency we have to latch on to that first freshmen year roommate, joining clubs together, socializing together and more, the influence a roommate can have on us seems natural. The best way to address this potentially frightening amount of influence that one person has over another might be to simply talk about it. Maintaining an open and honest relationship could help to ensure that roommates rub off on one another in the best way possible and less so due to feelings more reminiscent of peer pressure. In the end, many may find that there might be people that are better or worse roommates, and the lucky find roommates that share their quirks.