What's the value of Friendship (hint - it's more important thank you think) cover image

What's the value of Friendship (hint - it's more important thank you think)

Dorian Minors • May 4, 2014

This is an archived article from our predecessor website, The Dirt Psychology. The idea there was to take psychological scholarship and turn it into wisdom. The Armchair Collective tries to go a little further than just psychology. As such, these articles live here in archive form, until they're updated.

What is the value of friendship? You'll see it said a lot here and may know from elsewhere, but humans are extraordinarily social creatures. This primal, instinctual need for interaction is so deeply ingrained in us that it has some pretty significant connotations for our health, happiness and well-being.

One of the leaders in research on the value of relationships, a psychologist by the name of Diener and colleagues found the most illuminating statistic supporting this idea. They found single men have a mortality rate about 250 times that of a married man. That's 250 times more likely to die earlier! For women, the number is less high. Likely due in part to their socialisation, women are, in general terms more capable of looking after themselves than men.

Classic support. Photo courtesy of Ben Heine (Flickr)

So what is it about relationships that has such a profound effect? Psychologists used to think the value was in the support provided in times of adversity. They came up with a bunch of deficit models, basically saying that when we needed help, we'd rely on our friends for emotional support, guidance or even material/instrumental (giving you things and doing stuff for you) help. But this isn't the case!

Psychologists, among them Brooke Feeney and Nancy Collins, derived a model from the theory of Attachment. Now, if you don't know about that, go read this article and come back or you might have a hard time understanding. They theorise that we need two things from our friends. We do need the safe haven, the comfort in times of need that psychologists first imagined. But we also need a secure base! We need a secure base from which we can explore, flourish and grow. We need friends who not only support us during the tough times , but are enthusiastic about the good times. We need people to push us along and share our successes.

“Real friends ‘capitalize’ on each others’ successes, sharing positivity and having positivity returned to them.”

So, social support is not just helping a friends in the bad times, but as Carolyn Cutrona put it, a bunch of  'acts that reflect responsiveness to another's needs' . Needs which also include the need for support of goals and celebration of triumphs or pleasures. This idea is known as 'capitalization' (American spelling intended) - the act of sharing a positive event with someone and them responding positively, or 'capitalizing' on each others' successes. Now, anyone who has been around The Dirt Psychology will know that this is very similar to the key feature of attraction, the most powerful force in our social and romantic lives. In addition, research links capitalization with higher happiness and life satisfaction levels as well as lower blood pressure! So, what is the value of friendship? It's about the support they provide, not only to pick yourself back up but to push you forward to bigger and better things. Do this for your friends and make sure they are doing this for you and you'll not just create stronger, better relationships, but reap the health benefits too. Be sure to check out the three major things that increase your attraction. Or maybe you're wondering why it is that your 'friends' seem to always shut you downGiving you the dirt on your search for understanding, psychological freedom and 'the good life' at The Dirt Psychology. Thumbnail image courtesy of Minhaz (Flickr)

Turning scholarship into wisdom we can use at The Armchair Collective.

Questions? Comments? Comment sections are a pain to moderate. But this inbox is always read, so send an email. You'll get a reply. Your question might even get a whole article of its own.

More articles? View them all, or check these out:

Dorian Minors

I mostly do brain science. Sometimes I train honeybees. I promise they're related. I made this site because there's no reason why scholars should be the only ones to own knowledge. My special interests are interpersonal relationships, the science of community, spirituality and the brain, and the neural basis of complex behaviour. I hope this stuff is as interesting to you as it is to me. You can find out more about me here.