Half your “friends” don’t consider you their friend.

Like most people, I like to think I have friends.

There’s my friends from school, a few friends from uni. My friends from work (HI GUYS), and a handful from previous jobs. There’s friends I’ve made while travelling and while living overseas. And then there’s a big group of us, originally from nearby schools, who have gradually grown with the addition of new partners, new acquaintances, and even the odd sibling who stopped being annoying.

At least…I think these people are my friends. I like them. But surely part of the very definition of friendship is a mutual affection. It has to be reciprocal. I can’t really call someone my friend if they don’t consider me one.

But according to a recent study by researchers at Tel Aviv University, only about 50% of our ‘friendships’ are mutual.


That’s depressing.

I'm that friend aren't I.... Image via ABC.

The study, published in journal PLOS ONE, and titled 'Are you your friends' friend? Poor perception of friendship ties limits the ability to promote behavioural change' (those academic titles just roll of the tongue don't they?), surveyed 600 students in Europe, the US, and Israel.

Students were asked to score other participants on a scale from 0 to 5, where 0 means 'I don't know this person', 3 means 'Friend', and 5 means 'One of my best friends.' They were also asked to 'predict' how other participants would score them.

And a series of statistical analyses ultimately demonstrated that us humans are pretty bad at judging whether a platonic relationship is mutual.

In a conclusion that can be placed alongside the enormous pile of 'depressing social psychology findings', one of the authors, Dr Erez Schmueli said, "If you think someone is your friend, you expect him to feel the same way. But in fact, that's not the case."


And it's not just Schmueli and his colleagues who have observed this pattern. Several studies have found similar trends. In the paper, the researchers describe the findings as suggestive of "a profound inability of people to perceive friendship reciprocity, perhaps because the possibility of non-reciprocal friendship challenges one’s self-image."

Um, yeah it does. And it doesn't only challenge my self-image, it challenges everything.

Watch the last texts the Mamamia team received from their best friends. But are they even friends at all?

As with most psychological research, the study wasn't actually designed to focus on whether our friendships are mutual. According to the researchers, that's not even the interesting part.

What's interesting is that the 'directionality' of friendships - that is, whether it's mutual, or one sided - has a huge impact on the influence people have over one another. Psychologists have found that friendships can be a powerful context in terms of motivating behaviour change - for example, one might engage in more exercise because their friend is doing so. But reciprocal friendships are far more influential than non-reciprocal friendships. Probably because they also tend to be more intimate, and provide greater emotional support.

The authors of the study therefore concluded that their research could have significant consequences for social phenomena like peer pressure, conformity, and obedience. Typically, researchers have failed to consider whether relationships are reciprocal, and therefore have missed some of the nuance in what influences human behaviour.

So, yes, half your friends probably don't even like you. At least, they don't consider you as a friend. But it's the ones who you have a mutual friendship with that you should keep an eye on - because they might just make you exercise.

Couldn't have said it better myself. Image via NBC.