Beyond Bravo

Think Your Friends Are Your Friends? They're Probably Not

A new study asks subjects to rate their level of friendship, the results are surprising.

If you’ve ever wondered if your friend truly likes you, they probably don’t. Ouch.

A new study from PLOS|One called, “Are You Your Friends’ Friend? Poor Perception of Friendship Ties Limits the Ability to Promote Behavioral Change,” has shown that people are “typically poor” at perceiving the directionality of their friendship ties” and they assume their relationships are reciprocal by default. They’re not.

“For instance, when one considers another individual as ‘friend,’ the common expectation is that this other individual also thinks of them as friends.” reports the study. “Despite this common expectation, in reality not all friendships are reciprocal.”

And the number is high. It turns out only half the friends you have would describe you as a friend. Fifty percent of the friendships were unrequited.

In the study, a group of 84 people were asked to rank their friendships, then predict how their friend would rank them in return. 

While most people assumed their friend would describe them the same way, they soon discovered they were wrong. Participants were asked to score the other participants, who they knew, on a 0–5 scale, where 0 means “I do not know this person”, 3 means “Friend” and 5 means “One of my best friends.” In addition, participants were also asked to ‘predict’ how other participants would score them. Many who chose someone as a close friend, were met with acquaintance in return.

“We find that the vast majority of friendships are expected to be reciprocal, while in reality, only about half of them are indeed reciprocal,” researchers said. “In this network, we consider a friendship tie to be ‘reciprocal’ when both participants identify each other as friends.”

Researchers discovered that reciprocal friendships are more intimate and provide higher emotional support, when compared to those that are not reciprocated. 

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