Affiliation and friendship
Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
Affiliation is the desire or tendency to be with others of one’s own kind. Many animal species affiliate, collecting in groups to migrate or search for food. Human affiliation is not controlled simply by instinct but is affected by specific motives. One motivation for affiliation is fear: People seek the company of others when they are anxious or frightened. The presence of others may have a calming or reassuring influence. In 1959, research by social psychologist Stanley Schachter indicated that fear inducement leads to a preference for the company of others. Further work confirmed that frightened individuals prefer the company of others who are similarly frightened to the companionship of strangers. This preference for similar others suggests that affiliation is a source of information as well as reassurance.
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The value of obtaining information through affiliating with others is suggested by social comparison theory. Social comparison is the process of comparing oneself with others in determining how to behave. According to Leon Festinger, who developed social comparison theory in 1954, all people have beliefs and place importance on the validity of their beliefs. Some beliefs can be verified objectively by consulting a reference such as a dictionary or a standard such as a yardstick. Others are subjective beliefs and cannot be verified objectively. In such cases, people look for consensual validation—the verification of subjective beliefs by obtaining a consensus among other people—to verify their beliefs. The less sure people are of the correctness of a belief, the more they rely on social comparison as a source of verification. The greater number of people there are who agree with one’s opinion about something, the more correct one feels in holding that opinion.
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Influences on Affiliation (Psychology and Mental Health)
Beyond easing fear and satisfying the need for information or social comparison, mere affiliation with others is not usually a satisfactory form of interaction. Most people form specific attractions for other individuals rather than experiencing mere satisfaction with belonging to a group. These attractions usually develop into friendship, love, and other forms of intimacy. Interpersonal attraction—the experience of preferring to interact with specific others—is influenced by several factors. An important situational or circumstantial factor in attraction is propinquity, which refers to the proximity or nearness of other persons. Research by Festinger and his colleagues confirmed that people are more likely to form friendships with those who live nearby, especially if they have frequent accidental contact with them.
Further research by social psychologist Robert Zajonc indicated that propinquity increases attraction because it increases familiarity. Zajonc found that research subjects expressed greater liking for a variety of stimuli merely because they had been exposed to those stimuli more frequently than to others. The more familiar a person is, the more predictable that person seems to be. People are reassured by predictability and feel more strongly attracted to those who are familiar and reliable in this regard.
Another important factor in affiliation is physical attractiveness. A common stereotype...
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Friendship (Psychology and Mental Health)
Friendship begins as a relationship of social exchange. Exchange relationships involve giving and returning favors and other resources, with a short-term emphasis on maintaining fairness or equity. For example, early in a relationship, if one person does a favor for a friend, the friend returns it in kind. Over time, close friendships involve shifting away from an exchange basis to a communal basis. In a communal relationship, partners see their friendship as a common investment and contribute to it for their mutual benefit. For example, if one person gives a gift to a good friend, he or she does not expect repayment in kind. The gift represents an investment in their long-term friendship, rather than a short-term exchange.
Friendship also depends on intimate communication. Friends engage in self-disclosure and reveal personal information to one another. In the early stages of friendship, this is reciprocated immediately: One person’s revelation or confidence is exchanged for the other’s. As friendship develops, immediate reciprocity is not necessary; long-term relationships involve expectations of future responses. According to psychologist Robert Sternberg, friendship is characterized by two experiences: intimacy and commitment. Friends confide in one another, trust one another, and maintain their friendship through investment and effort.
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Comfort in a Group (Psychology and Mental Health)
Theories of affiliation explain why the presence of others can be a source of comfort. In Schachter’s classic 1959 research on fear and affiliation, university women volunteered to participate in a psychological experiment. After they were assembled, an experimenter in medical attire deceived them by explaining that their participation would involve the administration of electrical shock. Half the subjects were told to expect extremely painful shocks, while the others were assured that the shocks would produce a painless, ticklish sensation. In both conditions, the subjects were asked to indicate where they preferred to wait while the electrical equipment was set up. Each could indicate whether she preferred to wait alone in a private room, preferred to wait in a large room with other subjects, or had no preference.
The cover story about electrical shock was a deception; no shocks were administered. The fear of painful shock, however, influenced the subjects’ preferences: Those who expected painful shocks preferred to wait with other subjects, while those who expected painless shocks expressed no preference. Schachter concluded that, as the saying goes, “misery loves company.” In a later study, subjects were given the choice of waiting with other people who were not research subjects. In this study, subjects who feared shock expressed specific preference for others who also feared shock: Misery loves miserable...
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Factors in Friendship (Psychology and Mental Health)
Studies of interpersonal attraction and friendship have documented the power of circumstances such as propinquity. In their 1950 book Social Pressures in Informal Groups, Festinger, Schachter, and Kurt Back reported the friendship preferences of married students living in university housing. Festinger and his colleagues found that the students and their families were most likely to form friendships with others who lived nearby and with whom they had regular contact. Propinquity was a more powerful determinant of friendship than common background or academic major. Propinquity appears to act as an initial filter in social relationships: Nearness and contact determine the people an individual meets, after which other factors may affect interpersonal attraction.
The findings of Festinger and his colleagues can be applied by judiciously choosing living quarters and location. People who wish to be popular should choose to live where they will have the greatest amount of contact with others: on the ground floor of a high-rise building, near an exit or stairwell, or near common facilities such as a laundry room. Zajonc’s research on the power of exposure confirms that merely having frequent contact with others is sufficient to predispose them to liking.
Mere exposure does not appear to sustain relationships over time. Once people have interacted, their likelihood of having future interactions depends on...
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Love (Psychology and Mental Health)
Research on love has identified a distinction between passionate love and companionate love. Passionate love involves intense, short-lived emotions and sexual attraction. In contrast, companionate love is calmer, more stable, and based on trust. Companionate love is strong friendship. Researchers argue that if passionate love lasts, it will eventually transform into companionate love.
Researcher Zick Rubin developed a scale to measure love and liking. He found that statements of love involved attachment, intimacy, and caring. Statements of liking involved positive regard, judgments of similarity, trust, respect, and affection. Liking or friendship is not simply a weaker form of love but a distinctive combination of feelings, beliefs, and behaviors. Rubin found that most dating couples had strong feelings of both love and liking for each other; however, follow-up research confirmed that the best predictor of whether partners were still together later was how much they had liked—not loved—each other. Liking and friendship form a solid basis for love and other relationships that is not easily altered or forgotten.
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Research (Psychology and Mental Health)
Much early research on affiliation and friendship developed from an interest in social groups. After World War II, social scientists were interested in identifying the attitudes and processes that unify people and motivate their allegiances. Social comparison theory helps to explain a broad range of behavior, including friendship choices, group membership, and proselytizing. Festinger suggested that group membership is helpful when one’s beliefs have been challenged or disproved. Like-minded fellow members will be equally motivated to rationalize the challenge. In their 1956 book When Prophecy Fails, Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Schachter document the experience of two groups of contemporary persons who had attested to a belief that the world would end in a disastrous flood. One group was able to gather and meet to await the end, while the other individuals, mostly college students, were scattered and could not assemble. When the world did not end as predicted, only those in the group context were able to rationalize their predicament, and they proceeded to proselytize, spreading the word to “converts.” Meanwhile, the scattered members, unable to rationalize their surprise, lost faith in the prophecy and left the larger group.
Friendship and love are challenging topics to study since they cannot be re-created in a laboratory setting. Studies of personal relationships are difficult to conduct in natural settings; if...
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Digitized Affiliation (Psychology and Mental Health)
By the early twenty-first century, digital technology altered how many people met and chose to pursue friendships and relationships or seek affiliation with groups. Although traditional psychological factors continued to shape social patterns, new technologies offered ways other than propinquity for people to encounter and contact others who shared interests or appealed to them. The Internet expanded people’s awareness of, and immediate access to, other cultures despite physical distances. Communication technology—especially cell phones, Blackberries, and iPhones—provided people the ability to contact friends, either vocally or by texting and e-mail, regardless of location or time. These communication forms often affected social relationships: People sometimes focused on texting and responding to electronic messages rather than interacting with people around them. Researchers have considered the psychological impact of the interference of digital communication with school, work, or sleep.
People formed affiliations by participating in virtual chat boards, support groups, or other Internet forums. Many people joined Internet dating sites to meet potential romantic partners in their communities or elsewhere. Some people designed avatars to represent them when gaming online or responding to blogs to communicate with virtual friends. The anonymity of the Internet enabled people to portray themselves, often...
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Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Ellison, Nicole B., Charles Steinfield, and Cliff Lampe. “The Benefits of Facebook ’Friends’: Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites.” The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 12, no. 4 (July, 2007): 1143-1168. Evaluates psychological aspects of Internet groups, particularly for young adults, and how those relationships provide information and connections which sustain people psychologically. Emphasizes the research value of Internet friendship data to study twenty-first century affiliation practices.
Gackenbach, Jayne, ed. Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, and Transpersonal Implications. 2d ed. Amsterdam: Academic Press/Elsevier, 2007. Collection of essays addressing various forms of relationships people conduct online by participating in dating sites, communities, and groups, discussing benefits and negative impacts of cyber-affiliations on emotional health. References included for each chapter.
Harvey, John H., and Ann L. Weber. Odyssey of the Heart: Close Relationships in the Twenty-First Century. 2d ed. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2002. Comprehensive examination of psychological factors associated with affiliation, friendship, and love. Discusses evolving research concerns related to human interaction and suggests topics and theories meriting further examination and analysis. Figures, tables, and...
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