Perhaps the area of psychology that most interests me, social psychology tells us so much about ourselves and the way that we function. Most of its findings are applicable to real life, and it is really quite positive in its outlook. Though some people see it as a negative viewpoint since it suggests that all humans have the potential to commit terrible acts, it is actually positive in that it suggests that the situations cause these people to commit the terrible acts, and so by changing the world to remove these criminogenic environments, we would be able to get rid of crime and disaster for good. Of course, this is extremely unlikely, but does show how the social approach in fact fosters quite a pleasant view of the potential future. Here we’re going to be looking at how psychologists perceive the phenomenon of friendship.
Firstly, it seems that social interaction such as friendship may be required for even basic human functioning. Without knowing anyone, how would we learn to speak, or learn basic social protocol for dealing with situations? This can be illustrated by the case of Victor (the wild boy of Aveyron), who was found at around age 12 having never had proper human contact. When researchers tried to raise him to live by ‘normal’ social rules, he could not be taught. Studies of baby monkeys in the 50s showed the same results, whereby they could not reintegrate into the group if they had not been raised with them. Further studies have shown that this need for social interaction exists throughout the entirety of our lifespan, not just when we are growing up. Admiral Byrd decided that he wanted to test this and so lived in solitary in the North Pole for 6 months, but was made to return when he became depressed and was led to question whether his life held any meaning at all.
A 1998 US study showed that around a quarter of the population would report feeling lonely in the last few weeks, making it clear that feelings of loneliness are not uncommon. However, how is it that we can improve this? It has been shown from other studies that amount of contact time spent with others does not decrease feelings of loneliness. This fact has led psychologists to believe that loneliness is in fact determined by the quality of time spent with others as opposed to the quantity. It is for this reason that friendship psychology is so important in the real world, since we can reduce feelings of loneliness across the population.
Friendship is important because it provides us with necessary support and reduces our uncertainty in situations, lowering stress. If other react in the same way as us, then we know that we have made the right decisions. If others disagree with our choices, we know how to amend them next time. It has also been shown that this support is needed most when we are in already stressful situations, since Cohen and Hoberman showed that physical symptoms of stress were just as likely to occur in low stress situations, regardless of the support given, but these same symptoms were much more likely to occur when no support was given and the situation was already very stressful.
There are differences between genders in the friendships that are chosen too. Men tend to have quite casual friendships with other men, as compared to women, who like to be much closer with their friends. Despite this, women appear to have much vaster networks of friendship.
Regardless of gender though, psychology shows time and time again the importance of social stimulation and support in the modern world and in particular those with diseases such as cancer survive much longer in support groups where they can share their problems, so hopefully research will further expand on this relatively small area, but in the meantime, try reaching out and making a new friend today. You never know the difference it could make.
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