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.
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."