Why Is This Important?
Because you need to know how many people you actually have to buy birthday gifts for.
Long Story Short
Only half of perceived friendships are actually mutual, a new study shows.
Consider this: friendship has become a commodity. How many people follow you on Instagram, how many friends you have on Facebook, and who you trade witty remarks with on Twitter equates to social capital. Having a higher number of social media followers has become a status symbol more powerful than any new tech gadget or rare Pokemon Go. But what about real life?
In a study by MIT that analysed friendship ties in 84 subjects aged 23 to 38, researchers found that while 94 percent of the subjects expected their feelings to be reciprocated, only 53 percent of them actually were.
The subjects were asked to rank how close they were with each person in the class on a scale of 0 to 5, where 0 means “I do not know this person,” 3 means “Friend,” and 5 means “One of my best friends.” Again, only 53 percent of subjects were on the same page when it came to rating their friendship.
One of the team, computational social science researcher Alex Pentland, suggests that this inability to read people is largely due to us desperately trying to maintain a favourable self image. Our ‘more the merrier’ attitudes on social media have somehow translated into a loosening of the definition of friendship in real life.
The study is of course limited because of its tiny sample size, but as Kate Murphy reports for The New York Times, the results are consistent with data from several other friendship studies from the past decade, comprising more than 92,000 subjects, that put reciprocity rates at 34 to 53 percent.
Psychologists and anthropologists have maintained for years that there is a limit to the number of friendships humans can realistically maintain. In his book, How Many Friends Does One Person Need, Robin Dunbar argues that you can only keep friendships with about 150 people at any given time.
But before you start questioning all your relationships, don’t despair: if you cut your friends by half and end up with five mates who really do love you back, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be, according to Dunbar.
Now is your chance to stop feeling so much pressure to hang out with everyone all the time – and instead just stay loyal to those who reciprocate.