Examination of MySpace profiles supports alliance hypothesis for friendship

Mar 14, 2011 By Debra Filcman

(PhysOrg.com) -- It's like Confucius says: Have no friends not equal to yourself.

Professor Peter DeScioli's research on the online of 11 million people shows we may be taking the ancient Chinese proverb literally.

With the help of web crawlers, which collected data from profiles on MySpace, the social networking site, that used the "Top Friend" application to rank their pals, DeScioli found that people are most likely to consider as best friends those who reciprocate the feeling.

It supports what is called the "alliance hypothesis for friendship." In contrast to the long-held belief that friendship was a trade relationship, one based on exchanging favors, the alliance suggests we depend on our friends in . The study's findings were recently published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.

"It's crude," says DeScioli, a Florence Levy Kay Fellow in psychology and . "We think we care about our friends as people, not because we're getting something."

In part, we're right. To do well in a trade relationship, humans would have to be good accountants, but we're not, according to DeScioli. Instead, we look for people who will side with us - and against others - in a dispute, which also offers a good explanation for jealousy. The fewer people ranked higher than you, the greater the chance that said friend will side with you.

"Other animals generally dispute one-on-one, but humans are different. ‘Can you believe what so-and-so did to me?'" DeScioli says, mimicking a common conversation between friends. "We're good at recruiting allies."

Alliances are cultivated in advance so that when the conflict arises, we can predict our supporters with ease and accuracy. The same holds true on a larger scale. Nations aren't just concerned about their direct relationship with an ally, but also with whichever other nations it supports.

"It's not conscious, you generally just feel closer to those people," DeScioli says.

Conducted with Robert Kurzban, associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, the study examined the age, sex and location of each person using the application to rank their friends, as well as each person's overall popularity - in other words, how often others ranked them as a top friend.

"This is the largest data set on friendship I know of that's ever been collected," DeScioli says.

The results show your ranking of a friend depends on how they rank you. Comparing first- and second-rank friends, 69 percent designated as best friend the person who ranked them higher.

That correlation proved to be a much stronger predictor than geographic proximity, which is "the [theory] everybody talks about, the one in text books," DeScioli says.

Additional research in this area, such as manipulating friendships in a lab environment instead of collecting data on online friendships, might help people understand how to deal with relational aggression, or social bullying like gossiping or spreading rumors.

The results of the study "makes you realize that sometimes we're more jealous than we need to be," DeScioli says. "Sometimes you just need to reassure a friend, and it's helpful to know that it's not just totally arbitrary craziness."

Explore further: Non-citizens face harsher sentencing than citizens in US criminal courts

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Friendships are built on alliances, research shows

Feb 07, 2011

New research from the University of Pennsylvania is challenging some longtime assumptions about why human beings seek and keep their friends, and it reveals a somewhat darker side to the very nature of friendship itself.

Unrequited Love: How to Stay Friends

Jan 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Unrequited romantic feelings don't have to sink friendships, according to research by Michael Motley, a professor of communication at the University of California, Davis.

Personal relationships increase donations

Aug 22, 2008

People tend to be more sympathetic to people suffering from the same misfortune as a friend. But friendship with a victim does not make people generally more sympathetic, according to the authors of a new study in the Journal ...

Recommended for you

Power can corrupt even the honest

10 hours ago

When appointing a new leader, selectors base their choice on several factors and typically look for leaders with desirable characteristics such as honesty and trustworthiness. However once leaders are in power, can we trust ...

Learning at 10 degrees north

11 hours ago

Secluded beaches, calypso music and the entertaining carnival are often what come to mind when thinking of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. But Dal Earth Sciences students might first consider Trinidad's ...

How to find the knowns and unknowns in any research

12 hours ago

Have you ever felt overloaded by information? Ever wondered how to make sense of claims and counter-claims about a topic? With so much information out there on many different issues, how is a person new to ...

Minorities energize US consumer market, according to report

12 hours ago

The buying power of minority groups in the U.S. has reached new heights and continues to outpace cumulative inflation, according to the latest Multicultural Economy Report from the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the ...

User comments : 0