Human relationships are the backbone of the social sciences, and yet for years, friendship remained a relatively neglected topic. While psychologists and psychoanalysts were busy trying to make sense of romantic and family ties, the relationships we have with our friends – which, for many of us, will be some of the most significant and supportive of our lives – went largely unexamined.
In recent years, however, the science of friendship has received increasing attention. And now, a new study has confirmed something you probably already knew: that friendships are crucial in supporting us through hard times.
The research provides long-term statistical evidence for the major positive influence that close social relationships have on adults’ resilience in the face of adversity.
Dr Rebecca Graber, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Brighton, led the study while at the University of Leeds. She recruited 185 adults through social networking sites, university events and community organisations to support socially-isolated adults, and asked them to complete a questionnaire to measure their psychological resilience, coping behaviours, self-esteem, and the quality of their best friendships.
One year later, the same participants completed the same assessments. It was found that the quality of a person’s best friendships affected their “resilience processes” – that is, their ability to successfully cope with and adapt to difficult and stressful life conditions.
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“These findings reveal that best friendships are a protective mechanism supporting the development of psychological resilience in adults,” says Dr Graber.
These findings support previous research conducted by Dr Graber, which showed that having a single close supportive friendship could help socioeconomically vulnerable British adolescents survive and thrive.
Dr Graber’s research might have been the first examining the relationship between friendships and emotional resilience, but other studies back up the notion that close, supportive friendships are vital in ensuring our emotional wellbeing.
One such paper from 2006 investigated the relationship between personality, number of friends, best friendship quality and happiness among over 400 young adults, with the intention of pinpointing just how much friendship contributed to happiness. Once individual personalities were controlled for, it was discovered that the quality of participants’ friendships was an extremely strong predicator of how happy they would be.
Another study, conducted by University College London and published in February 2017, proved that close friendships are vital in facilitating the exchange of information and culture, thus strengthening social networks.
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