The preferential association of amino acid side groups with specific side chain atoms are examined in 44 known protein structures. The resulting association potentials among residue side groups are used to detect structural homology in proteins displaying little or no homology in their primary sequences. Suggestions are also made regarding the nature of the protein folding process. They are based on statistical observations that delineate the extent of short and long range interactions and that display side group bias in association with other side chain atoms on their N‐terminal side. © 1984 Munksgaard International Publishers Ltd.