The science behind making best friends revealed

June 3rd, 2009 - 12:38 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 3 (ANI): When you say that someone is your best friend, you most likely believe that that other person also considers you to be his/her best pal, according to a new study.

Studying the cognitive mechanisms behind human friendship, a team of University of Pennsylvania psychologists have found that how people rank their best friends is closely related to how they think their friends rank them.

The researchers say that their findings are consistent with a new theory called the Alliance Hypothesis for Human Friendship, distinct from traditional explanations for human friendship that focused on wealth, popularity or similarity.

Research leaders Peter DeScioli and Robert Kurzban say that their study has shown that that human friendship is caused, in part, by cognitive mechanisms aimed at creating a ready-made support group for potential conflicts.

People call on friends for help in a variety of disputes, ranging from trivial arguments to violent fights. The researchers say that it is because people have specialized decision processes that prioritise those individuals who tend to be most helpful in conflicts, those with fewer stronger commitments to others.

They performed question-and-answer studies in which participants ranked their closest friends in a number of ways, including, for example, the benefits they receive from the friendship, the number of secrets shared and how long the friendship has been ongoing.

According to them, whether participants were an online community, random passers-by on a metropolitan street or undergraduate students in a laboratory, each time friendship rankings were most strongly correlated with individuals’ own perceived rank among their partners’ other friends.

“Historically, the main theory has been that humans build friendships in order to trade in goods and services. The problem we focused on was that friendship involves more than exchange. People want friends who care about them and do not give just to get something back in return. We thought that theories about alliances might help explain why friends are primarily concerned with each others’ needs rather than the benefits they can get in return for helping,” said DeScioli, lead author.

The new Penn theory has origins in models of alliance building between nations, which prepare for conflict in advance but may not expect anything in return immediately.

“Friendships are about alliances. We live in a world where conflict can arise and allies must be in position beforehand. This new hypothesis takes into account how we value those alliances. In a way, one of the main predictors of friendship is the value of the alliance. The value of an ally, or friend, drops with every additional alliance they must make, so the best alliance is one in which your ally ranks you above everyone else as well,” Kurzban, an associate professor, said. (ANI)

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