Well, this is awkward… A recent study on friendship just revealed some facts that might make you question a few friendships in your life. The paper published along with the study, “Are You Your Friends’ Friend? Poor Perception of Friendship Ties Limits the Ability to Promote Behavioral Change,” looks at friendship and peer influence as they relate to practical social situations, like the “buddy system” that many people use in order to be held accountable for weight loss, alcohol use, or smoking cessation. But what the study revealed was something that can apply to all of us: the people we consider our friends might not feel the same way about us. Yikes.
For instance, when one considers another individual as “friend”, the common expectation is that this other individual also thinks of them as friends…Despite this common expectation, in reality not all friendships are reciprocal. When analyzing self-reported relationship surveys from several experiments, we find that the vast majority of friendships are expected to be reciprocal, while in reality, only about half of them are indeed reciprocal. These findings suggest a profound inability of people to perceive friendship reciprocity, perhaps because the possibility of non-reciprocal friendship challenges one’s self-image.
So it might just hurt too much to take a step back and realize that people whom we hold dear to our hearts might not like us quite as much as we had hoped. It is no surprise that having truly reciprocal friendships is beneficial to us. They “provide higher emotional support, and form a superior resource of social capital when compared to those that are not reciprocated.”
As for the buddy system in the interventions mentioned above, it turns out that a person’s influence is only effective when the relationship is either reciprocal, or unilateral in the direction of the subject viewing the “buddy” as a friend.
Who would you consider your friends? Do you think they like you back? It’s probably best not to ask…