Affinity Bias and Human Behavior

Charlotte Wittenkamp commented on my post on Pairing Thinking. She wrote “We remember to look for the aspects we don’t want to recognize but are there whether we want to recognize them or not. It is not always the same people who have to spell reality out to those who wish not to see it – or to always be cheerleaders to naysayers. I replied, “You are so right. We do not only have confirmation bias, but also “affinity bias”. What we have an affinity for we highlight and dim what we do not like.”

This exchange of comments provided the seed for this post.

We, humans, are chemical molecules and behave similarly. Water molecules have a great affinity to each other and bond with each other.

Human affinity for negative bias is similar to the electron affinity of an atom or molecule. This is the amount of energy released when an electron attaches to a neutral atom or molecule in the gaseous state to form an anion with a negative charge.

The Imposter Syndrome

Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes first identified and named the Imposter Syndrome back in 1978. This syndrome is about our affinity to negative self-talk by doubting our abilities. The higher the affinity for negativity is the deeper the syndrome shall be.

Family criticism. Workmates’ criticism and social criticism may be responsible for making some people doubt their abilities and undervalue their achievements.

The imposter syndrome strengthens by our tendency to affinity bias. Affinity bias is the tendency to favor people who are more like us. If we suffer from imposter syndrome, our affinity bias attracts us to people who suffer from the same.

This leads to segregation and a deepening of self-doubt.

Is there a way out?

One practice that may be helpful is SBNRR.

  • Stop. Whenever you feel triggered, stop and catch yourself. …
  • Breathe. Bring attention to your breath to relax yourself. …
  • Notice. Get in touch with your emotions by bringing attention to your body. …
  • Reflect. What is causing the emotion? …
  • Respond. …
  • You May Not Even Have to Respond.

The combined effect of the imposter syndrome with the affinity bias requires hard work to overcome. It involves changing our thinking pattern. However, it is a worthy effort.


Ali Anani
Ali Anani
My name is Ali Anani. I hold a Ph.D. from the University of East Anglia (UK, 1972) Since the early nineties I switched my interests to publish posts and presentations and e-books on different social media platforms.

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  1. I am always fascinated by my friend Ali’s ability to explain human emotions starting from physics or chemistry (subjects that are difficult for me).
    I was aware of imposter syndrome and affinity biases (very dangerous, for example, when one has to refer to cultural capital in companies where the workforce is particularly differentiated by nationality and ethnicity) but I had not understood the combined effect between They.
    So I still learned a lot from Prof Ali Anani (as always).

    • My friend Aldo,

      I am deeply moved by your compliment and wisdom.

      I an glad that you found some value in my post. Coming from you means a lot for me.

  2. Quite intriguing post, Brother Ali.
    I love how you combine the affinity bias -surrounding ourselves with those like us in looks and opinions with the Imposter Sysndrome- insecurity writ large -such that we discount our accomplishments and exaggerate our flaws to ourselve secretly worrying we will be “found out” and exposed as a fraud unworthy of our position.

    Do we attract those we feel negative affinity with? Do people bond on negative emotions as well as positive?

    I think so.

    Witness my experience -I am an obsessive addictive personality who has struggled a lot in my life with alcohol and substance abuse (mostly I won that struggle) -I find that many of my friends struggle too or are the adult children of alcoholic parents.

    Further evidence: Old people sitting around complaining of their aches and pains and how getting old “ain’t for sissies.”

    And more: The political bubbles we have in the US -each side declaring the other ‘evil” for their political views and forming tribes behind stockades bonding on the latest outrage.

    As you know, I worked in consulting – a collection of smart insecure people who have learned to sound confident -but work very hard to analyze enough data to overcome their imposter sysndrome -Is it a wonder we were perceived as arrogant?

    Would that we all, consultants, political activists, substance abusers and the world, would follow your prescription
    STOP -Breathe-Notice-Reflect-Respond -or Don’t Respond

    Thw world would be a better place.

    • Your comment is, as we say here, is “mind-filling” brother Alan

      All your examples are prompt.
      One particular idea is your mentioning is our deepening of self imposed imposter syndrome. Worrying to be found out is one way of responding unwisely to the syndrome.

      My answer to your question if people tend to bond with our negative emotions is yes.
      We say here that I may forgive people who do not show up for a party but not when failing to come and comfort us for the loss of a beloved one. Pain unites for sure.

      The SBNRR is not mine but I find it quite practical.