A scientific insight into the best way to make friends.
How many friends do you have? In the social media era we find ourselves in, sites like Facebook make it far easier to quantify than it ever has been. The internet does a fantastic job of giving you a daily summery of the amount of friends you have, but while fantastically precise, it cannot quite capture the real ‘magic’ behind what you get in a friendship. While Oscar Wild brilliantly claimed that true friends are people who would, “stab you in the front” personally, I believe C.S. Lewis described the connection with another person better when he said, “it is one of those things that gives value to survival.” Even on them few occasions they drive us so mad that we feel like we could not live with our friends, deep down we know, we couldn’t live without them.
Interactions between people have become a keen interest for some of the world’s leading neuroscientists, giving us some amazing insights to how the brain reacts to friendship. One intriguing finding that has been found is that rejection by someone you are connecting with really hurts, and not just emotionally. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, a scan to monitor what area of the brain is in use, scientist at UCLA found that areas of the brain respond to the rejection of another human in an incredibly similar way as we do if we are suffering physical pain. In an experiment to test how people’s brains react to being rejected by a possible friend, they found that when someone was ignoring the participant, areas within the brain react almost identically as if we had been physically hurt. Matthew D. Lieberman, one of the paper’s authors and an assistant professor of psychology claims that, “physical and social pain may be more similar than we realized.”
If connecting with people and making friends is so important how can we get the best results when trying to do it? When first meeting someone, it would seem like common sense that both of you would want to show the positive aspects of your personality to each other. To illustrate this, try the following thought experiment…
You are in a movie rental shop; you strike up a conversation with someone who you would like to become friends with. You are both chatting away and they ask the question, “Name me one film you have seen in the last week?” luckily, in the last week you have seen 2 films. The first, Was a critically acclaimed film that is highly regarded by film fans (think, you would be happy for people to see you walking down the street with the DVD case in your hand). The second was a film that has been a guilty pleasure of yours (think, if you bought it you would want to keep it in the carrier bag when walking home, but you could tell your parents you watched it.) What one do you tell the stranger you have seen?
Pick the first movie? The vast majority of people presented with this situation, or others similar, do as well. It is common sense that showing the best side of yourself would make you more likeable, yet new research indicates this might not be the correct way to approach making friends. Like on so many occasions, the data shows that our conventional wisdoms are mistaken on a grand scale.
Dr Arthur Aron of Stony Brook University wanted to explore the possibility of finding a way that would make strangers bond, form close friendships, and maybe even find a little bit of romance in a short amount of time. In this experiment on “fast friends” they arranged participants in pairs, giving them 36 questions that they were both asked to discuss openly for an hour. The questions started needing only limited amounts of self-disclosure. Initially posing questions like, ‘if you could have anyone for dinner dead or alive who would it be?’ This gradually escalated needing the participants to expose more of their vulnerable aspects, posing questions like, ‘when do you think a decision you made took your life in the wrong direction, and how would you change that if you could?’ This worked better than predicted as pairs reported feeling unusually close to the person they had shared their answers with. In a statistically significant amount of pairings, participants that had been randomly placed together had exchanged contact details and wanted to meet up again. most even carried on chatting well over the allotted hour. They concluded that this connection is based not just on reciprocal self-disclosure – Being vulnerable with each other – but on gradually escalating reciprocal self-disclosure. In follow up studies, Dr Aron found that there was in fact the case and there is real connecting power in exposing your vulnerability.
Research like Dr Aron’s will never provide a complete walk through guide to making friends. There are many factors that play a role in connecting to people, but we hope this you can use the insights shown by this experiment to help improve your connections out there in the world. Next time you find yourself in a situation where you have the option to expose a vulnerable part of yourself, go for it! Self-disclosure, at the right time, can make a relationship. Pleases let us know how, or indeed if, this research works in your life via twitter, we are on @RealitySwipe, see you next week Swipers!