Psychology of Social Connection

F • R • I • E • N • D • S (& acquaintances)

October 17th, 2020 · 4 Comments

Friends (Grace)

 

We’ve already learned that one of our most basic needs as humans is to feel like we belong – in a place, with people, or just in life (Pickett, Gardner, & Knowles, 2004). Feeling like we belong creates a sense of comfort and safety; it gives our lives meaning and reaffirms, in many cases, our self-worth. Familial relationships can definitely help satisfy this need to belong – I mean, who doesn’t feel at home when surrounded by your family as you’re about to devour your Thanksgiving feast? But, friendships can actually give you a greater sense of belonging than familial relationships (Chopik, 2017). Friend relationships have actually been found to predict greater health and happiness in later adulthood than any other interpersonal relationship (Chopik, 2017). When examining the effect of close relationships on health and happiness later in life, Chopik (2017) found that friendships, in particular, foster better health, wellness, and happiness outcomes. And, he found that stress from friendships was the most significant factor in predicting chronic illness over time (Chopik, 2017). So long story short – friend relationships are not just necessary to fill our need to belong, they’re important for our long-term health and happiness. 

 

Why are friendships so special? As Jem Finch so eloquently put it in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, “You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family” (p. 300). Though only a 10-year-old, Jem recognized a pretty poignant fact of life: Friend relationships are unique because you’re not forced into them like you are with your family. And, while you choose who you become friends with, you also choose who you stay friends with (Beck, 2015). 

 

Sooo, if friends are so important to us, how do we find them and how do we keep them? 

 

Making friends comes naturally to us. We make friends by sharing similar interests, values, experiences and close proximity, and by spending time together, among other factors. From personal experience, I’ve found that sharing a difficult experience with another person can really bring you together. Think of that friend you made while trying to survive EC10. You probably met in office hours after your first midterm (which you both failed miserably) and decided that in order to merely pass the class, you had to religiously attend office hours in order to get answers to p-sets and maybe – just maybe – grasp a slight understanding of basic economics. After the second office hours, you notice each other, exchange numbers, and plan to meet up outside of class to study and get each other through the class. BOOM – you’re now friends. You’ve found someone that makes you feel comfortable in the class; you’ve found someone with whom you feel you belong.

 

Now that you’ve made your new friend, how do you keep her? Maintaining friendships is the harder of the two – it requires a lot more effort. It requires that you expand on what initially brought you together and also engage in reciprocity, equity, and cognitive capacity. It requires an emotional investment. The will to share your cognitive capacity with someone can really test a friendship, especially in a virtual setting. The pandemic has forced us to evaluate what relationships we really want to keep. Without the ease of seeing our friends daily and knowing what they’re up to all the time, it’s difficult to carry on conversations without them feeling stilted or simply nostalgic for the past. It can also be hard if you feel like you’re the only one putting in the effort. Though it may be easy to blame the pandemic for making it difficult to maintain these friendships, you could see it as an opportunity to evaluate which friendships are most important to you because those that you’re making an effort to maintain are the ones that you’re going to keep. 

 

Going back to that friend from EC10 – the odds of you keeping her as a friend are low if you don’t invest in each other’s lives outside of class. Though you may have bonded from seeing each other frequently and sharing in a similar, utterly horrible, experience, your friendship will not last the length of time if you don’t take the cognitive capacity to invest yourself emotionally. Losing a friend like that is not something to cry over, though! That friend will just be a weak tie that simply adds value to your day when you occasionally see her, and, we all know that the more weak-tie interactions we have, the happier we’ll be (Sandstrom & Dunn, 2014)! 

 

Acquaintances (Andre)

 

An essential interim step on the road to a life full of friendships is amassing a network of acquaintances. While casual, “weak ties” might not feel that meaningful in the moment, they add up to something pretty big. Random conversations and occasional run-ins remind us that we’re worthy of attention and can relish the experiences of all types of people. Having more weak-tie, acquaintance-type interactions makes us feel better, more belonging in our community, and overall more satisfied with life (Sandstrom & Dunn, 2014). That’s quite a haul for small talk at the coffee shop. 

 

Acquaintances broaden our world view and build empathy by exposing us to more and more personal stories (Volpe, 2019). We only have the time and capacity to deeply know so many people, but we can learn a ton by opening ourselves to those people we might only ever kind of know. They could be a link to a new job, hobby, or way of seeing the world. 

 

Other research even suggests that being ignored by those who barely know us can hurt more than being ignored by more familiar people (Snapp & Leary, 2001). One idea that comes to mind for why that could be is that unfamiliar people who choose to ignore us have made the quick judgment that we’re not worthy of interaction or we must be doing something wrong or some essential part of our being is just off for them. We’re left to wonder and feel micro-rejected by that weak-tie. We can fend off those feelings if we all keep up on our casual friendships. 

 

Ultimately, casual friendships can shape our lives in many ways that rival the more serious friendships that we pour energy into maintaining. They can blossom into those very friendships, and teach us a lot along the way regardless. 

 

 Resources

Beck, J. (2015). How friendships change in adulthood. The Atlantic.  

Chopik, W. J. (2017). Associations among relational values, support, health, and well-being across the

adult lifespan. Personal Relationships, 24(2), 408-422.

Lee, H. (2010). To kill a mockingbird. New York: Grand Central Publishing.

Pickett, C. L., Gardner, W. L., & Knowles, M. (2004). Getting a cue: The need to belong and enhanced

sensitivity to social cues. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 1095-1107.

Running Hug GIF – Running Hug Embrace – Discover & Share GIFs. (2020). Retrieved 16

October 2020, from https://tenor.com/view/running-hug-embrace-imiss-you-good-to-see-you-again-gif-15965620

Sandstrom, G. M., & Dunn, E. W. (2014). Social interactions and well-being: The surprising

power of weak ties. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(7), 910-922.

Snapp, C. M., & Leary, M. R. (2001). Hurt feelings among new acquaintances: Moderating effects of interpersonal familiarity. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 18(3), 315-326.

Swift, Taylor. (2009, June 16). Taylor Swift – You belong with me [Video file]. Retrieved from

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuNIsY6JdUw.

Volpe, A. (2019, May 07). Why You Need a Network of Low-Stakes, Casual Friendships. Retrieved October 16, 2020

 

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4 responses so far ↓

  • Anonymous // Oct 18th 2020 at 6:06 pm

    Hi Grace and Andre!

    First of all, LOVE the title!! I’m a sucker for hidden pop culture references and thought this was such a subtle, witty way of catching the reader’s attention.

    I found your discussion of strong vs. weak tie interactions very compelling. Grace, your overview of the Chopik (2017) paper and focus on the importance of friendships over other interpersonal relationships on your happiness in particular made me think about how odd our prioritization of friendships seems from an evolutionary perspective. If you think about it, preferring to investing in relationships with people who are not biologically related to us over our actual family seems very counterintuitive, given that investing in friendships can be very costly and therefore it would make sense to allocate this emotional energy to people that carry your genes (even if partially) and would therefore most directly enhance the passing of your genetic material to the next generation. Yet, I think if we view it from the perspective of selection at the level of the group (given that humans LOVE to make groups) and how these friendships in your group can provide an exchange of resources that can boost your own survival, the prevalence of non-kin relationships starts to make more sense.

    What really doesn’t make much sense then, are weak tie interactions (no established exchange of resources necessarily) and why they can be as important (if not more, in some cases) to one’s sense of social acceptance and life satisfaction. I think Andre kind of touches on why this could be the case when he talks about how rejection from a weak tie interaction might be more of an insult to the “essence” of our being given that it can be seen as more of an objective evaluation of how you come off to other people. Makes me wonder if weak tie interactions are more about internally reflecting and building a positive view of yourself as opposed to externally connecting with someone else (which could be more of the case in strong tie interactions).

    Curious to see what all you guys would have to say on this!!

    -Gaby

  • James Kirkpatrick // Oct 19th 2020 at 12:58 am

    Grace and Andre,

    I really enjoyed reading y’alls blog post. Our group also did a blog post this week, so I was excited to see what other groups had to say as well.

    Grace started it off perfectly with the (very) relatable anecdote about the EC10 exchange. It is really interesting to break down seemingly random events and track the progression of a friendship. Factors such as proximity (EC10) and co-rumination (the failing grade) are shown to have facilitated this theoretical friendship, and Grace delivered this information in a clear and relatable way, seeming as though we all know what its like to fail an Economics test!

    Andre also made some really interesting points about weak-tie interactions. Although most of us like to pretend that the opinions of others do not matter to us, we all know the emotional toll that rejection can have on us, whether it be by a stranger or a friend. I agree completely with Andre, in that weak tie interactions are hugely impactful, maybe even as impactful as close-relationships.

    Thank y’all for the time you put in on this post, I enjoyed reading it.

  • Anonymous // Oct 19th 2020 at 10:07 pm

    Hey Andre and Grace,

    Loved reading this post! It’s so nice to read about a topic that is so important and critical to life – having friends!

    It is really amazing to think how important the friendships you have in life are in terms of your health and happiness. In another psych class I took, we learned how loneliness can even shorten a person’s lifespan, playing a huge role in health and wellness. Reading this blog, this is reaffirmed through Grace sharing how important friendships are for a person.

    I love Grace’s connection to a hard class like EC10 because it could not be more relatable. There are so many classes at school that I’ve had to take where I find myself getting super close with a certain person or a group of people because I am spending so many hours with them trying to do assignments for the course. It’s definitely one of my favorite things about taking a hard course or just taking any course with certain people you normally don’t get to interact with a lot because you get to know them so much better.

    This post has made me realize how much I can benefit and how easy it is to have a small conversation at a place like a coffee shop with someone I don’t know well. It makes so much sense too, that we can learn so much and develop more empathy by interacting with more people and stepping out of our little bubbles.

    — Camerin

  • kat // Oct 20th 2020 at 6:03 pm

    Hey! This is a really well thought out piece. I appreciated reading through it. I’m really struck by Grace’s discussion of friends during quarantine. I also definitely feel that I’m interacting with less people in general, compared to normal. Certainly, I’m making less new friends, due to proximity and the other factors that you mentioned.

    However, I wonder, among existing friends and acquaintances, how much is the decrease in interaction among them intentional vs circumstantial. First, are people really intentionally reflecting and deciding which friends to interact with and which friends to not? If not, how are we making the decisions about who to interact with? Some of this decision-making is fairly circumstantial. As Grace mentioned, it’s just harder to see friends and to find things to talk about. But to some degree, we must be implicitly making decisions about who to ‘invest’ time and effort into. I would be interested in considering this question further because how much of our interactions with friends depend on circumstances vs decisions (implicit or explicit) could affect the quality of the friendships that we come out of this pandemic with (hopefully soon).

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