Social Psychology

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Why do we become friends with the people we do?


This paper explores the numerous factors that influence the likelihood of two or more people becoming friends. The factors examined include; propinquity, reciprocity, similarity, attractiveness, peer and family acceptance, competence and self-disclosure. Examples from both research and everyday life are used to highlight how each of these factors impacts the possibility of a friendship forming.

The term friendship is used to describe the co-operative , supportive and caring behaviour between two or more people. A friendship is a type of committed relationship which involves shared awareness, esteem and affection (Foster, 2005). Friends welcome each other’s company and exhibit loyalty towards each other in a selfless manner. Research suggests that the nature of friendships in adulthood is often a critical determinant of personal happiness, hopefulness, self-esteem and self-image (Foster, 2005). As such, it is important to understand what factors influence the likelihood of becoming friends with another person. Research consistently indicates that there are numerous factors including, propinquity, reciprocity, similarity, attractiveness, peer and family acceptance, competence and self-disclosure, which all greatly impact the likelihood of a friendship forming. This paper will explore each of these influencing factors and how they impact on whether or not two people will become friends.

Firstly, propinquity simply refers to being near someone on a regular basis. Also known as the proximity or mere exposure theory, the propinquity theory of friendship assumes that individuals grow to like people whom they encounter or interact with on a regular basis (Festinger, Schachler & Back, 1950). A study conducted by Festinger, Schachler and Back (1950) demonstrates how propinquity or regular exposure to someone can increase the likelihood of becoming friends with that individual. The study was carried out on graduate students living in university campus dormitories. The aim of the study was to determine what factors led to attraction and friendship. They found that the strongest predictor of friendship was how closely two people lived to one another. The researchers found that participants were more likely to make friends with those that lived nearby then those that lived in other dormitories or even on other floors. Even in instances where on paper two participants seemed to be a good friendship match (i.e. more similar, shared more common interests, same age) proximity was still the stronger predictor of a friendship forming. See Appendix A for another everyday example of how propinquity influences the likelihood of becoming friends with another person.

A second factor that influences the likelihood of becoming friends with another person is reciprocity. Simply put, reciprocity refers to liking someone in return for liking you, or liking someone who likes you. Reciprocity is based on the theory that most individuals feel an obligation to return in kind what another individual has done for them (Parker & Seal, 1996). Thus, when an individual discovers another person likes them, they feel obligated to like them in return. A study conducted by Simpson, Miller and Walton (1993) provides evidence of reciprocity leading to the formation of a friendship. The study was conducted on 50 undergraduate students, who were each sent a letter by the researcher pretending to be a fellow classmate. Half of the letters simply contained a written profile of a potential friend, while the other half were friendship letters that all finished with the sentence: “I really like you and would greatly value your friendship” (Simpson, Miller & Walton, 1993). A few weeks after receiving the letters, all participants were invited to a social dance. Over the duration of the night, each participant was introduced to the author of the letter (who was actually a confederate). At the end of the dance participants were asked to rate to degree to which they liked the potential friend (i.e. the confederate) and whether or not they would consider pursuing a friendship.

The result indicated that a huge 76% of participants who received the friendship letters said that they would be willing to further pursue the friendship, while only 9% of those participants who received the profile said that they would be willing to further pursue a friendship (Simpson, Miller & Walton, 1993). These findings demonstrate just one example of how reciprocity can increase the likelihood of two people forming a friendship. For further examples see Appendix B.

Similarity is said to be the most important factor required in order to become friends with another person. Similarity, also termed interpersonal attraction, refers to the preferences individuals have for people similar to themselves (Parker & Seal, 1996). Research suggests that similarity breeds connection and liking, that is, similarity contributes not only to initial attraction but also to the development of close friendship bonds. Numerous studies (e.g. McPherson, Smith-Lovin & Cook, 2001; Ellis & Zarbatany, 2007; Parker & Seal, 1996) have found that the strongest predictor/influence of friendship is how similar two people are. Similarity includes: having similar attitudes, values, interests and beliefs, while also being of similar age, gender, socioeconomic status, education, and attractiveness (McPherson, Smith-Lovin & Cook, 2001). Thus, how similar two people are will influence how likely they are to become friends. See Appendix C for further examples.

A fourth influencing factor of friendship formation is attractiveness and/or beauty. This factor refers to how physically attractive an individual is perceived to be (Jackson, Hunter & Hodge, 1995). Research conducted by Feingold (1988) found that when all else is equal, most people show a substantial preference for attractive over unattractive others. Furthermore, people are much more likely to want to form friendships with attractive people compared with less attractive people.

Peer and family acceptance
The fifth factor, peer and family acceptance is moderately circumstantial in the degree to which it influences the formation of a friendship (i.e. it differs from person to person and from situation to situation). The major premise behind this theory is that in order for a friendship to fully develop into a committed relationship the potential friend has to be accepted (i.e. liked and respected) by other peers and family members. A study by Ellis and Zarbatany (2007) supported this premise when it found that only 13% of friendships that did not have peer and/or family acceptance developed into committed relationships. This suggests that peer and family acceptance is an important influence the likelihood of whether or not two people will become friends. Refer to Appendix D for an everyday example of the influence of peer and family acceptance.

Social competence
Competence is yet another factor that researchers believe influences that likelihood of becoming friends with another person. Competence is a term used to describe how capable or able an individual is in doing something (Parker & Seal, 1996). In the instance of developing friendships, competence usually refers to an individual’s social competence, that is, an individual’s ability to demonstrate positive social behaviours, including sociability and pro-social behaviour (Parker & Seal, 1996). Social competence is possessing and using the ability to integrate thinking, feeling and behavior to achieve social tasks and outcomes valued by others (Jackson, Hunter & Hodge, 1995). Studies suggest that people are not only more attracted to those who possess social competence; they are also more likely to developed committed relationship, such as friendships with socially competent individuals.

Lastly, self-disclosure refers to sharing information with others. Though, self-disclosure is not simply providing information to another person. Instead, researchers define self-disclosure as sharing information with others that they would not normally know or discover. Self-disclosure involves risk and vulnerability on the part of the person sharing the information (Wicker, Thoms & McGrath, 2005). Self-disclosure performs several functions that all influence and increase the likelihood of one individual becoming friends with another. For example, it is a way of gaining information about another person. We want to be able to predict the thoughts and actions of people we know. Self-disclosure is one way to learn about how another person thinks and feels (Wicker, Thoms & McGrath, 2005). Once one person engages in self-disclosure, it is implied that the other person will also disclose personal information. This is known as the norm of reciprocity. Mutual disclosure deepens trust in the relationships and helps both people understand each other more (Wicker, Thoms & McGrath). Thus, research suggests that we are more likely to become friends with someone if both parties are able to self-disclose. See Appendix E for an everyday example of self-disclosure.

Overall, there are numerous factors that influence the likelihood of becoming friends with another person. These factors include, but are not limited to, propinquity, reciprocity, similarity, attractiveness, peer and family acceptance, social competence and self-disclosure. Research suggests that one or more of these factors needs to be present in order for a friendship to fully develop into a committed relationship. Some of these factors need to be present in order to be attracted to another person, such as propinquity, reciprocity, similarity and attractiveness. While other factors need to be present in order for the friendship to further develop and become a committed relationship, such as, peer and family acceptance, social competence and self-disclosure. While there are many more factors that can influence the likelihood of becoming friends with another person, the factors discussed in the paper outline some of the more commonly found factors that can either increase or decrease the chances of a friendship forming.

Word count:1487

Link to Appendix F- Self-assessment


Ellis, W.E., & Zarbatany, L. (2007). Explaining friendship formation and friendship stability: The role of children’s and friends’ aggression and victimization. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 53, 79-104.

Feingold, A. (1988). Matching for attractiveness in romantic partners and same sex friends: A meta-analysis and theoretical critique. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 125-139.

Festinger, L., Schachler, S., & Back, K.W. (1950). Social pressures in informal groups: A study of human factors in housing. New York: Harper. Retrieved from

Foster, G. (2005) Making friends: A nonexperimental analysis of social pair formation. Human Relations, 58, 1443-1465.

Jackson, L.A., Hunter, J.E., & Hodge, C.N. (1995). Physical attractiveness and intellectual competence: A meta-analytic review. Social Psychology Quarterly, 58, 108-122.

McPherson, M., Smith-Lovin, L., & Cook, J.M. (2001). Birds of a feather: Homophily in social networks. Annual Reviews Social, 27, 415-444.

Parker, J.G., & Seal, J. (1996). Forming, losing, renewing and replacing friendships: Applying temporal parameters to the assessment of children’s friendship experiences. Child
Development, 67, 2248-2268.

Simpson, L. F., Miller, T. J., & Walton, L. (1993). Returning the favor: Reciprocity and friendships. Social Interaction & Behavior, 15, 147-159.

Wicker, F. E., Thoms, P., & McGrath, A. (2005). The influence of social-disclosure in committed relationships. Journal of Human Relations, 32, 1005-1028.

Appendix A- Example of Propinquity

Appendix A

Example of Propinquity

One everyday example of how propinquity can influence the formation of friendships can be seen in my everyday life. Almost all of my friends became my friends simply because I was “exposed” to them on a regular basis. I developed and still maintain friendships formed in high school, I have friends from work, uni friends, family friends and friends of friends. Though, every single relationship formed from regular exposure to the person.

Another example of propinquity can be seen on those relationships where a person simply “grows on you”. This is the case for a lot of the friendships I started at work. As mean as it sounds, I would not have become friends with the people at work if I didn’t work with them on a regular basis. They are very different from the rest of my friends, and when I first started working there they were actually very annoying! But after seeing them day-in-day-out they all grew on me. And while they are all still very different to my other closer friends, I would definitely still consider them good friends.

Appendix B- Example of Reciprocity

Appendix B

Example of Reciprocity

Reciprocity refers to liking someone in return for liking you, or liking someone who likes you. Most of the everyday examples from my own life occurred in primary school, when fellow classmates came up to me in the playground and said they liked me and wanted to be my friend (we would remain best friends for the whole day).

But I have one demonstration of reciprocity leading to friendship formation that happened to a friend of mine, we will call her Mary and the potential friend Lucy. Mary played touch football with Lucy. Mary thought Lucy was annoying and a really bad football player and so she tended to ignore her at every game. Though, Lucy liked Mary (Lucy had just moved to Canberra and so had no friends or family) and after every game Lucy would help Mary pack up and invite Mary out for drinks. At first Mary was just plain rude and refused to go to drinks with Lucy and even referred to her as “her stalker” when talking about her with friends. But after Lucy had asked Mary to join her for drinks a few times, Mary began to feel bad for been so rude and not returning Lucy kindness. In line with the theory of reciprocity, Mary felt obligated to return Lucy’s kindness and so eventually she agreed to have drinks with her.

Long story short the two of them really “hit it off” and have been inseparable since (they have been best friends for seven years now). Mary still jokes with people that the thing she likes most about Lucy is that Lucy likes her.

Appendix C- Example of Similarity

Appendix C

Example of Similarity

I have so many examples of how similarity has influenced my friendships that I don’t have the time or space to list them all. Though, I will use examples from two of my friendships to demonstrate; the first friend is a very close friend of mine and we have been friends for over 10 years and the second friend I consider a friend, but not a close friend and we have known each other for 15 years.

Hopefully, when comparing the two you can see why I would be more likely to be close friends with the person in friendship one, who I am very similar to, then I would be with the person in friendship two, who I am quite different to.

Friendship One:
1. We attended the same school, had the same subjects, obtained similar UAI’s and now we do the same degree
2. We are both females and we were born a month apart (same star sign too)
3. Both of similar height and not much difference in weight
4. We come from similar socioeconomic backgrounds and live 15 minutes away from each other
5. We like the same music, clothes ,movies etc. and we are attracted to similar people and share many friends
6. Both of us are Catholic and were raised by strict parents
7. I would say we have very similar beliefs and values
8. We talk in a similar way, do our hair the same and frequently come up with the same ideas
9. Both of us are non-smokers, who still live at home and we both come from big families

1. I like playing sport, exercising and been active, whereas she is a bit of a couch potato
2. I am good with my money and saving, she is hopeless and constantly broke
3. I have a fulltime job, she works whenever she feels like it
4. I like children and she can’t stand them

Friendship Two:
1. Attended the same primary school
2. We are both female and both Catholic
3. Both work fulltime time
4. Both like sport and exercising
1. She dropped out of school in year 10 and doesn’t believe in uni (or an education for that matter)
2. She is two years older
3. We come from different socioeconomic backgrounds and we raised very differently (she was raised in a single parent family and she was the only child)
4. She now lives out of home, in Sydney
5. In terms of looks she would be significantly bigger than me (not that that actually bothers me, consciously)
6. She smokes and drinks excessively
7. Terrible with money and holding down a job for more than a month
8. I would guess that we have very different beliefs and values and we probably want different things out of life.
9. We have very different tastes regarding EVERYTHING and because of this we constantly argue

I could be here forever talking about our differences just as I could be here forever talking about how similar my close friend and I are. Though, while I consider them both friends, I have found that the differences I have with the second friend have stopped us from developing a close committed relationship like the one I have with the first friend I described. This is just one everyday example of how similarity can influence whether or not we form a close bond with another person.

Appendix D- Example of peer and family acceptance

Appendix D

Example of Peer and family acceptance

For me, peer and family acceptance is one of the most important factors that influences whether or not I will become friends with another person. I value the opinions of my close friends, boyfriend and my family very much, so if they don’t like someone or have a bad feeling about them, I will not pursue a relationship with that person.

One example of this occurred two years ago. I met a girl through some work colleagues and we instantly “hit it off”. It was not so much that we were similar, we were actually quite opposite, but she was fun and we always had a great time together. When I introduced her to my partner for the first time he developed an intense dislike for her. I blew it off as jealously, but deep down it upset me that he didn’t like her.

The same thing happened when I introduced her to a few of my close friends. Some of my friends came up to me and said that while she was fun and appeared to be nice they had a bad feeling about her. After that, I started to see her less and less, and while it upset me that I wasn’t hanging out with her as much anymore, I valued my partners and peers opinions and their acceptance of her was extremely important to me.

It was my family’s disapproval that finally made me stop seeing her and delete her number. My parents thought that while she was a very nice person there was something a bit off about her. A month after I had deleted her number I heard through a friend that she had been arrested and charged with armed robbery (no joke!). Apparently there had also been another girl in the car with her who was also charged, though later the charges were dropped. It turned out that she had met the girl a month ago and the girl just thought that they were going on an innocent drive to get petrol. She later learnt that she was considered an accomplice, even though she knew nothing about what her new friend had been planning. When I think of all the times I went to the local servo with her it scares me.

This is a true story and it is also the reason why I rely on my friends and family’s acceptance of my new or potential friends. They have the ability to step back and look at situations and people objectively and can see things that I can’t. Furthermore, I just like knowing that I have my family and friend’s approval or acceptance.

Appendix E- Example of self-disclosure

Appendix E

Example of Self-disclosure

When forming my current relationships and friendships with others self-disclosure was a very important factor. For me this was for two reasons. Firstly, I am a very open person; I tell everyone and anyone everything about me, and it doesn’t bother me to tell all. Though, it does tend to bother me if I disclose information about myself to someone I consider a friend and then she or he discloses nothing about themselves. To me this comes across as a sign that they don’t trust me or don’t like me enough to share their thoughts and information about themselves. Luckily, most of my friends are similar to me and are very open people.

A second reason that self-disclosure is important to me is that it shows that the person isn’t afraid to commit to a relationship or friendship. Obviously, this is an important factor if you want to pursue a friendship with someone; you need to know they are committed too, to avoid wasting time and energy on a relationship that will go nowhere.

One example of self-disclosure from my everyday life occurred only a few months ago. I discovered that one of my close friends had lied about a lot of the information she had disclosed to me. Amongst other things she had lied about how her mother had died, why her boyfriend broke up with her and even where she had moved to Canberra from. While I felt sorry for her that she felt the need to lie to me, I couldn’t help but feel betrayed. I felt like she had made me disclose information about myself while never actually disclosing any real information in return. Needless to say, the friendship didn’t last very long.

Appendix F- Self-assessment report

Appendix F

Self-assessment report

Marking criteria 1 & 2- Theory & Research

The essay was well researched and applied numerous, relevant theories and studies to the argument. I would have liked to have had more information on other different factors not commonly examined but due to the word limit I was unable to do this. I read numerous articles but again due to the word limit I had to cull them done and use only the most relevant research and examples. Other than that, all other areas covered were well researched and applied the theories of friendship formation effectively.

It appears that relevant and recent theories and literature have been identified and understood. Though, perhaps more concise summaries would have allowed for more explanations and examples to be used which may have better demonstrated a thorough understanding of the topic.

Overall, a sound understanding of the research and theories relating to the factors that influence the likelihood of becoming friends with another person was evident throughout the paper. I believe that in the end I understood the topic area well which is reflected in my everyday examples of each factor.

Marking Criteria 3- Written Expression

APA style is consistent and accurate throughout the essay. The essay is clearly set out from the introduction, which restates the essay question ensuring clarity for the reader, and the main body of the essay follows through and flows in a logical manner. The text and colours used are easy to read and the blog does not contain bright colours and picture for the purpose of not drawing the reading attention away from the essay. Headings were also used to make it easier for the reader to follow and links were used throughout to enhance the overall readability and to make it easy to locate Appendices, reference list etc.

A Microsoft Word online readability test was conducted, the readability ease score for this paper was 44.5 where as the readability grade point score was 17.8. These scores indicate that the readability of this essay was roughly average.

The set out and style of the blog posting is simple to read and is clear and easy to follow, the layout also aids the blogs readability as it is not “busy” and quite user-friendly. Overall, the written expression is quite effective in getting the message across to the reader.

Marking Criteria 4- Online engagement

I signed up to my blog two question quite early on in the term. A poll was used to encourage blog readers to interact and become involved in the planning process, unfortunately not many blog readers voted, thus, it may have been useful to try another approach in order to encourage blog participation.

All ideas and brainstorms were posted early on in the term which was effective in persuading others to comment, though again, different approaches may have been beneficial in attracting more bloggers to leave comments, thoughts and opinions.

Adding thoughts, questions and ideas to the discussion pages may have also increased blog participation from others or even having more ‘fun’ , interactive blog postings, such as experiments, short films, television ads, articles etc., may have boosted blog participation.

Numerous comments were left on other bloggers pages, though in most cases this did not lead to them leaving comments or responding to comments left. Again, more commenting could have been done in the first instance to encourage blog participation.