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Friendship is a relationship of mutual affection between two or more people. Friendship is a stronger form of interpersonal bond than an association. Friendship has been studied in academic fields such as sociology, social psychology, anthropology, and philosophy. Various academic theories of friendship have been proposed, including social exchange theory, equity theory, relational dialectics, and attachment styles. A World Happiness Database study found that people with close friendships are happier.
Although there are many forms of friendship, some of which may vary from place to place, certain characteristics are present in many types of friendship. Such characteristics include affection, sympathy, empathy, honesty, altruism, mutual understanding and compassion, enjoyment of each other's company, trust, and the ability to be oneself, express one's feelings, and make mistakes without fear of judgment from the friend.
While there is no practical limit on what types of people can form a friendship, friends tend to share common backgrounds, occupations, or interests, and have similar demographics.
In the typical sequence of an individual's emotional development, friendships come after parental bonding and before pair bonding. In the intervening period between the end of early childhood and the onset of full adulthood, friendships are often the most important relationships in the emotional life of the adolescent, and are often more intense than relationships later in life. The absence of friends can be emotionally damaging.
The evolutionary psychology approach to human development has led to the theory of Dunbar's number, proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar. He theorized that there is a limit of approximately 150 people with whom a human can maintain stable social relationships.
In childhood, friendships are often based on the sharing of toys, and the enjoyment received from performing activities together. These friendships are maintained through affection, sharing, and creative playtime. While sharing is difficult for children at this age, they are more likely to share with someone they consider to be a friend (Newman & Newman, 2012).[full citation needed] As children mature, they become less individualized and more aware of others. They begin to see their friends' points of view, and enjoy playing in groups. They also experience peer rejection as they move through the middle childhood years. Establishing good friendships at a young age helps a child to be better acclimated in society later on in their life (Newman & Newman, 2012).[full citation needed]
In a 1975 study, Bigelow and La Gaipa found that expectations for a "best friend" become increasingly complex as a child gets older. The study investigated such criteria in a sample of 480 children between the ages of six and fourteen. Their findings highlighted three stages of development in friendship expectations. In the first stage, children emphasized shared activities and the importance of geographical closeness. In the second, they emphasized sharing, loyalty and commitment. In the final stage, they increasingly desired similar attitudes, values and interests.
According to Berndt, children prize friendships that are high in prosocial behavior, intimacy, and other positive features; they are troubled by friendships that are high in conflict, dominance, rivalry, and other negative features. High-quality friendships have often been assumed to have positive effects on many aspects of children's social development. Perceived benefits from such friendships include enhanced social success, but they apparently do not include an effect on children's general self-esteem. Numerous studies with adults suggest that friendships and other supportive relationships do enhance self-esteem (Berndt, 2002).[full citation needed]
A study examined over 9,000 American adolescents to determine how their engagement in problem behavior (such as stealing, fighting, truancy) was related to their friendships. Findings indicated that adolescents were less likely to engage in problem behavior when their friends did well in school, participated in school activities, avoided drinking, and had good mental health. The opposite was found regarding adolescents who did engage in more problem behavior. Whether adolescents were influenced by their friends to engage in problem behavior depended on how much they were exposed to those friends, and whether they and their friendship groups "fit in" at school (Crosnoe, R., & Needham, B., 2004).[full citation needed]
Life events such as marriage, parenthood, and accelerated career development can complicate friendships in the transition from young adulthood to middle adulthood. After marriage, both women and men report having fewer friends of the opposite sex (Friendships, 2012).[full citation needed]
Adults may find it particularly difficult to maintain meaningful friendships in the workplace. "The workplace can crackle with competition, so people learn to hide vulnerabilities and quirks from colleagues. Work friendships often take on a transactional feel; it is difficult to say where networking ends and real friendship begins." Most adults value the financial security of their jobs more than friendship.
The majority of adults have an average of two close friends.
As family responsibilities and vocational pressures become less, friendships become more important. Among the elderly, friendships can provide links to the larger community; especially for people who cannot go out as often, interactions with friends allow for continued societal interaction. Additionally, older adults in declining health who remain in contact with friends show improved psychological well-being.
Although older adults prefer familiar and established relationships over new ones, friendship formation can continue in old age. With age, elders report that the friends they feel closest to are fewer in number and live in the same community. They tend to choose friends whose age, sex, race, ethnicity, and values are like their own. Compared with younger people, fewer older people report other-sex friendships. Older women, in particular, have more secondary friends—people who are not intimates, but with whom they spend time occasionally, such as in groups that meets for lunch or bridge.
Three significant factors make the formation of a friendship possible:
Friendships end for many different reasons. Sometimes friends move away from each other and are forced to move on due to the distance. Sometimes divorce causes an end to friendships, as people drop one or both of the divorcing people. At a younger age friendships may end as a result of acceptance into new social groups. (Friendships, 2009) (Berry, 2012)
Friendships may end by fading quietly away or may end suddenly. How and whether to talk about the end of a friendship is a matter of etiquette that depends on the circumstances.
Children with autism spectrum disorders usually have some difficulty forming friendships. Certain symptoms of autism can interfere with the formation of interpersonal relations, such as a preference for routine actions to change, obsession with particular interests or rituals, and a lack of typical social skills. Children with autism spectrum disorders have been found to be more likely to be close friends with one person, rather than having groups of friends. Additionally, they are more likely to be close friends with other children with some sort of a disability. A sense of parental attachment aids in the quality of friendships in children with autism spectrum disorders; a sense of attachment with one's parents compensates for a lack of social skills that would usually inhibit friendships.
With time, moderation, and proper instruction, children with autism spectrum disorder are able to form friendships after realizing their own strengths and weaknesses. A study done by Frankel et al. showed that parental intervention and instruction plays an important role in such children developing friendships. Along with parental intervention, school professionals play an important role in teaching social skills and peer interaction. Paraprofessionals, specifically one-on-one aides and classroom aides, are often placed with children with autism spectrum disorders in order to facilitate friendships and guide the child in making and maintaining substantial friendships.
Although lessons and training may help peers of children with autism, bullying is still a major concern in social situations. According to Anahad O'Connor of The New York Times, bullying is most likely to occur against autistic children who have the most potential to live independently, such as those with Asperger syndrome. Such children are more at risk because they have many of the rituals and lack of social skills as children with full autism, but they are more likely to be mainstreamed in school, since they are on the higher-functioning end of the autism spectrum. Children on the autism spectrum have more difficulty picking up on social cues of when they are maliciously being made fun of, so they do not always know when they are being bullied.
Children with ADHD may not have difficulty forming friendships, though they may have a hard time keeping them, due to impulsive behavior and hyperactivity. Children with Attention deficit disorder, or ADD, may not have as much trouble keeping and maintaining friendships, though inattentiveness may complicate the processes.
Parents of children with ADHD worry about their children's ability to form long-lasting friendships. According to Edelman, "Making and keeping friends requires 'hundreds' of skills-talking, listening, sharing, being empathetic, and so on. These skills do not come naturally to children with ADD." Difficulty listening to others also inhibits children with ADD or ADHD from forming good friendships. Children with these disorders can also drive away others by "blurting out unkind comments." Their disruptive behavior can become too distracting to classmates.
Conventional wisdom suggests that good friendships enhance an individual's sense of happiness and overall well-being. Indeed, a number of studies have found that strong social supports improve a woman's prospects for good health and longevity. Conversely, loneliness and a lack of social supports have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, viral infections, and cancer, as well as higher mortality rates overall. Two researchers have even termed friendship networks a "behavioral vaccine" that boosts both physical and mental health.
While there is an impressive body of research linking friendship and health, the precise reasons for the connection remain unclear. Most of the studies in this area are large prospective studies that follow people over a period of time, and while there may be a correlation between the two variables (friendship and health status), researchers still do not know if there is a cause and effect relationship, such as the notion that good friendships actually improve health. A number of theories have attempted to explain this link. These theories have included that good friends encourage their friends to lead more healthy lifestyles; that good friends encourage their friends to seek help and access services when needed; that good friends enhance their friends' coping skills in dealing with illness and other health problems; and that good friends actually affect physiological pathways that are protective of health.
Dharmachari Jñanavira, writing in the Western Buddhist Review, suggests homophobia is at the root of a modern decline in the Western world. In a cultural context where homosexual desire is considered sinful, the experience of homoerotic desire can be traumatic, limiting the potential for same-sex friendship. Japanese psychologist Doi Takeo has expressed similar views. He claims that male friendships in American society are fraught with homosexual anxiety, and thus homophobia is a limiting factor stopping men from establishing deep friendships with other men. The Danish sociologist Henning Bech, for instance, writes of the anxiety which often accompanies developing intimacy between male friends:
The more one has to assure oneself that one's relationship with another man is not homosexual, the more conscious one becomes that it might be, and the more necessary it becomes to protect oneself against it. The result is that friendship gradually becomes impossible.[this quote needs a citation]
The suggestion that friendship always contains an element of erotic desire is not new. It dates to the time of the ancient Greeks, where it comes up in the writings of Plato. More recently, the Austrian philosopher Otto Weininger claimed that:
There is no friendship between men that has not an element of sexuality in it, however little accentuated it may be in the nature of the friendship, and however painful the idea of the sexual element would be. But it is enough to remember that there can be no friendship unless there has been some attraction to draw the men together. Much of the affection, protection, and nepotism between men is due to the presence of unsuspected sexual compatibility. (Sex and Character, 1903)[full citation needed]
Recent Western scholarship in gender theory and feminism concurs, as reflected in the writings of Eve Sedgwick in her The Epistemology of the Closet, and Jonathan Dollimore in his Sexual Dissidence and Cultural Change: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault.
Generally, friendship has two dimensions: quality and conflict (Demir, 2007).[full citation needed] The quality of friendship is important for a person's well-being. High quality friendships have good ways of resolving conflict, ultimately leading to stronger and healthier relationships. Good friendship has been called "life enhancing" (Helm, 2012).[full citation needed] Engaging in activities with friends intensifies pleasure and happiness. The quality of friendships relates to happiness because friendship "provides a context where basic needs are satisfied" (Demir, 2010).[full citation needed] Quality friendships lead an individual to feel more comfortable with his or her personal identity. Higher friendship quality directly contributes to self-esteem, self-confidence, and social development (Berndt, 2002).[full citation needed]
Friendship was a topic of moral philosophy greatly discussed by Plato, Aristotle, and Stoics. The topic was less discussed in the modern era, until the re-emergence of contextualist and feminist approaches to ethics. In Ancient Greece, openness in friendship was seen as an enlargement of the self. Aristotle wrote, "The excellent person is related to his friend in the same way as he is related to himself, since, a friend is another self; and therefore, just as his own being is choiceworthy for him, the friend's being is choice-worthy for him in the same or a similar way." In Ancient Greek, the same word was used for "friend" and "lover".
The respect that friends have in East Asian culture is understood to be formed from a young age. Different forms of relationships in social media and online chats are not considered an official friendship in East Asian culture. Both female and male friendships in East Asia start at a younger age and grow stronger through years of schooling and working together. Different people in East Asian culture have a close, tight knit, group of friends that they call their “best friends.” In Western Culture, many people refer to multiple people as their “best friends”, as compared to East Asian culture, where best friends are the 2-3 people closest to a particular person. Being someone’s best friend in East Asian culture is considered an honor and privilege. In a Chinese context, there is a very strong orientation towards maintaining and enhancing interpersonal relationships. The relationships between friends in East and Central Asian culture holds a tight bond that is usually never broken until someone geographically moves to another part of the county or out of the country.
Germans typically have relatively few friends, although their friendships typically last a lifetime, as loyalty is held in high regard. German friendships provide a substantial amount of commitment and support. Germans may appear aloof to people from other countries, as they tend to be cautious and keep their distance when it comes to developing deeper relationships with new people. They draw a strong distinction between their few friends and their many associates, co-workers, neighbors, and others. A relationship's transition from one of associates to one of friends can take months or years, if it ever happens.
In Islamic cultures, friendship is also known as companionship or ashab. The concept is taken seriously, and numerous important attributes of a worthwhile friend have emerged in Islamic media, such as the notion of a righteous (or saalih) person, who can appropriately delineate between that which is good and that which is evil. Concordance with the perspectives and knowledge of others is considered to be important; forgiveness regarding mistakes and loyalty between friends is emphasized, and a "love for the sake of Allah" is considered to be a relationship of the highest significance between two humans.
It is believed that in some parts of the Middle East (or Near East), friendship is more demanding when compared with other cultures; friends are people who respect each other, regardless of shortcomings, and will make personal sacrifices in order to assist another friend, without considering the experience an imposition.
Many of the qualities of modern Russia's culture date back to Soviet times. Scarcity in the Soviet Union led people had to create relationships with people in certain businesses in order to get the things they needed, such as a hospital employee to help obtain medical attention. Such practices led to a community spirit and interpersonal connections (Babaeva 2010).[full citation needed] Many of these practices have continued to the present day. Inefficiencies on the part of the government, so Russians may find it easier to rely on their friends and family than on any company or business. These traditional types of relationships are valued greatly in Russia (Babaeva 2010).[full citation needed]
Other conditions in the Soviet period made it harder for Russians to form relationships. Confiding in another person opened the risk of being reported to the state, especially for dissent. As in Germany, people in Soviet communities had very few friends, but the friends they did have were extremely close. These trends have continued in modern Russia (Sheets & Lugar 2005).[full citation needed]
In the United States, many types of relationships are deemed friendships. From the time children enter elementary school, many teachers and adults call their peers "friends" to children, and in most classrooms or social settings, children are instructed as to how to behave with their friends, and are told who their friends are (Stout 2010).[full citation needed] This type of open approach to friendship has led many Americans, adolescents in particular, to designate a "best friend" with whom they are especially close (Stout 2010).[full citation needed] Many psychologists see this term as dangerous for American children, because it allows for discrimination and cliques, which can lead to bullying (Stout 2010).[full citation needed]
For Americans, friends tend to be people whom they encounter fairly frequently, and that are similar to themselves in demographics, attitude, and activities (Sheets & Lugar 2005).[full citation needed] While many other cultures value deep trust and meaning in their friendships, Americans will use the word "friend" to describe most people who have such qualities (Stout 2010).[full citation needed] There is also a difference in the US between men and women who have friendships with the same sex. According to research, American men have less deep and meaningful friendships with other men. In the abstract, many men and women in the United States have similar definitions of intimacy, but women are more likely to practice intimacy in friendships (Yugar & Shapiro 2001).[full citation needed] Many studies have also found that Americans eventually lose touch with friends. This can be an unusual occurrence in many other cultures (Sheets & Lugar 2005).[full citation needed]
According to a study documented in the June 2006 issue of the American Sociological Review, Americans are thought to be suffering a loss in the quality and quantity of close friendships since at least 1985. The study states that one quarter of all Americans have no close confidants, and that the average total number of confidants per person has dropped from four to two.
Divorce also contributes to the decline in friendship among Americans. "In international comparisons, the divorce rate in the United States is higher than that of 34 other countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia" (Newman & Newman, 2012 p. 475).[full citation needed] In divorce, many couples end up losing friends through the process, as certain friends "side with" one member of the relationship and lose the other.
The advance of technology has also been blamed for declining friendships in the United States. Ethan J. Leib, author of the book Friend vs. Friend and law professor at the University of California-Hastings, suggests that longer hours of work and a large amount of online communication take away from personal communication, making it harder to form friendships. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter have also led to a decrease in the amount of personal communication experienced in everyday life, and serves to make emotional attachments more difficult to achieve. (Newman & Newman)[full citation needed] (Berry, 2012)[full citation needed] (Freeman, 2011).[full citation needed]
Friendship is also found among animals of higher intelligence, such as higher mammals and some birds. Cross-species friendships are common between humans and domestic animals. Cross-species friendships may also occur between two non-human animals, such as dogs and cats.
A study conducted by Krista McLennan, a doctoral student at Northampton University, investigated friendship in cows. McLennan measured the heart rates of cattle on three separate occasions to determine their stress levels. In the first trial, the cows were isolated from the rest of their herd. The second trial penned the animal with another cow that they were familiar with. Finally, the third trial put two random cows together. Her research showed that the cows were much more stressed when alone or with an unfamiliar cow than they were with one of their friends. This supports the idea that cows are social animals, capable of forming close bonds with each other. McLennan suggests that if farmers group friends together, it could benefit the cows by reducing their stress, improving their overall health and even producing a greater milk yield.
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