I’m Wearing You Down!…The Proximity and Familiarity Effects

Did you ever see the 90’s show Family Matters? It was a “Long-running ‘Perfect Strangers’ spin-off series centering on the Winslow family and their pesky next-door neighbor, ultra-nerd Steve Urkel” (IMDb). Oh, Steve Urkel, what a character he was! The poor kid was madly in love with Laura Winslow, who rejected him repeatedly, show after show. However, he was persistent and consistent and well aware of the proximity and familiarity effects, often telling Laura, “I’m wearing you down baby!”

According to the proximity effect, interpersonal liking is increased between people who live within the same vicinity and who have the most contact with one another (Weber, 2012). Therefore, you are more likely to become friends with a neighbor that you don’t have much in common with but you are in contact with regularly, than a person with which you have much in common but you rarely see. Weber (2012) explains it is the proximity that creates the opportunity for regular contact, which can then lead to a relationship. For the character Steve Urkel, although he was annoying and had little in common with the members of the Winslow family, they could not help but become friends with him because he was a nice enough neighbor and he was always around.

The familiarity effect often goes hand in hand with the proximity effect, as regular contact with another person increases familiarity which has been shown to make one feel more positive and comfortable (Weber, 2012). However, Weber (2012) warns that as familiarity increases the likability of a pleasant person, it can also continue to decrease the likeability of an unpleasant person. This negative outcome of familiarity is called environmental spoiling, and I can attest to its effects.

Before I moved to the location I live in now, my family and I rented the front house of a property containing two more houses behind it. During the last three years we lived there, the neighbor who lived directly behind us was extremely difficult to like. She would peak in our windows as she walked by, was rude to the gardeners, grilled our friends with inappropriate and personal questions whenever they visited and constantly complained about everything. Although I loved the house we lived in, I would find myself desperately hoping not to run into her every day I returned home from work. Her presence really did spoil our home environment, so much so that my family and I still occasionally bring up how happy we are to live where we are now without her as our neighbor.

Fortunately, for Steve Urkel, his genuine care for Laura shined through his quirkiness, allowing the proximity and familiarity effects to work in his favor. By the end of the series, he finally did wear Laura down and she returned his love by agreeing to marry him. For a sample of these effects and a moment of nostalgia, I leave you with this short video with clips from the show Family Matters.


IMDb (n.d.) Family matters. Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096579/

Weber (2012). Applying social psychology to personal relationships. In F. W. Schneider, J. A. Gruman, & L. M. Coutts (Authors), Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems (Second ed., pp. 351 – 364). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications

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