Friendship and cognitive health part 4: Laws of attraction

Friendship and cognitive health part 4: Laws of attraction

The laws of attraction with regard to friendships are complex. New research on the small but important transitions from “acquaintance” to “friend” to “best friend” indicates that these laws are even more complex and nuanced than previously believed. National Friendship Day provides a platform on which to explore these transitions and the differences between relationships.

According to recent research conducted by Beverley Fehr, sociologist at the University of Winnipeg, self-disclosure is the initial stepping stone to friendship. Acquaintances might talk about basic everyday occurrences, but friendships are marked by self-disclosure and reciprocation by the other party. Fehr explains, “The transition from acquaintanceship to friendship is typically characterized by an increase in both the breadth and depth of self-disclosure. In the early ages of friendship, this tends to be a gradual, reciprocal process. One person takes the risk of disclosing personal information and then ‘tests’ whether the other reciprocates.” (Karbo, November 2006)

A 2014 study on the relationship between genetics and friendship development was conducted by Nicholas Christakis of Yale University and James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Researchers found that there are often genetic similarities among friends, but that they typically exhibit distinct differences in immune systems. Christakis and Fowler believe this to be evolutionary, as those in the same social circles are not susceptible to the same diseases. Matthew Jackson, Stanford University economics professor, explains, “It’s obvious that humans tend to associate with other people who are very similar to themselves. This gives us evidence that it’s operating not just at a level of very obvious characteristics but also ones that might be more subtle, things that we hadn’t really anticipated.” (Stein, July 2014)

Further research by Carolyn Weisz and Lisa F. Wood, social psychologists at the University of Puget Sound, suggests that people value support for their own social identity from friends more than other peripheral factors. These social identities often change in the presence of personal lifestyle changes or life-altering events. For instance, an individual’s self-identity as a cancer survivor might override previous self-identifications and encourage him or her to form friendships primarily with other cancer survivors. Other research conducted by Weisz found that this is true within substance abuse communities, as well. Individuals whose substance abuse issues did not mesh with their social identities or personas were more likely to maintain sobriety after treatment than those whose identities were tied up in their drug or alcohol addictions.

If your social identity and friendships are connected with your substance abuse issues, you have the power to break the pattern. The California Mental Health Helpline is a facility that specializes in treating individuals dealing with mental health disorders, substance abuse and dual diagnosis. Call 855-559-3923 to speak with a professional today.

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