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.


James Neill said...

1.Overall, this is an excellent essay, clearly HD quality. It indicates considerable work with considerable research, discipline and polish. Congratulations.
Clear, informative.
Concise, brief, useful – well done.
Strong introduction; succintly introduces the topic and key theories to be addressed by the essay.
Excellent theoretical structure; well selected set of theoretical factors.
I'm not sure about this claim: “Similarity, also termed interpersonal attraction”
A useful array of relevant and interesting studies are incorporated.
7.Written Expression
Readability was excellent. I calculated better readability statistics than you report; more importantly it was an easy, enjoyable, informative, well structured, well expressed read which stuck to its topic.
Indepth, honest, and relevant examples; very well presented in appendices which allowed maximum attention to theories/research whilst providing indepth examples without breaking the flow of the essay.
Avoid overly emotive enthusiasm e.g., “a huge”
8.Online Engagement
I think your self-assessment undersells your engagement. Several relevant postings and comments on other's blogs revealed engagement with the topic, development of thinking, collaboration with and support of peers' learning, etc.
No discussion list postings.
9.Referencing & Citations
High quality; moderate number.
APA formatting excellent.
Use alphabetical order for multiple citations, e.g., “Numerous studies (e.g. McPherson, Smith-Lovin & Cook, 2001; Ellis & Zarbatany, 2007; Parker & Seal, 1996)”
11.Grammar & Spelling
Generally excellent.
remove comma: “including, propinquity”
Use past tense: “A study conducted by Festinger, Schachler and Back (1950) demonstrates...”
Not a fully grammatical sentence: “Though, self-disclosure is not simply providing information to another person.”

Unknown said...

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Unknown said...

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Unknown said...

Hi "Emma", (You are not an easy person to find, all your profile says that you are a female in Australia)
I loved your article about friendship and I am wondering if you were interested in having further, deeper chats about friendship. I am a psychotherapist is Sacramento, CA (USA) and I am working with people who have difficulties creating friendships as adults. I'd love to pick your brain about this topic and listen to your suggestions of why these particular individuals may have so much difficulties creating friendships. Any comment/input would be helpful as currently I have none.
So, if you are interested, please contact me at
Please don't answer the 70.stella.luna.2018 email. That's a bogus email that I had to create as part of a school project and Google works in mysterious ways, it keeps bringing it up for no reasons. I don't use it.
Thank you and I am looking forward to meeting you.

Unknown said...

This is so well written. Thank you.

Kendall said...

I agree with you

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