A new psychological study has determined something that I’ve known since the day you called me out in the BroBible Facebook comments for having the vocabulary of a 4th grader: that you are not as popular as you think you are. In all seriousness though, this is a rather fascinating study because it shows a bias that every single one of us have fallen victim to at some point in our lives, one that psychologically inflates the level of friendship with someone who is a simple acquaintance.
The study authors gave a survey to 84 college students in the same class, asking each one to rate every other person in the study on a scale of zero (“I do not know this person”) to five (“One of my best friends”), with three as the minimum score needed to qualify for friendship. The participants also wrote down their guesses for how each person would rate them.
Overall, the researchers documented 1,353 cases of friendship, meaning instances where one person rated another as a three or higher. And in 94 percent of them, the person doing the ranking guessed that the other person would feel the same way.
Which makes sense — you probably wouldn’t call someone a friend, after all, unless you thought that definition was mutual. That’s why we have terms to capture more one-sided relationships, like friend crush or hey, I don’t really know her but I think she’s neat. Both of which, come to think of it, might have been better descriptors of a lot of the relationships in the study. In reality, only 53 percent of the friendships — a small, sad, oh honey number of them — were actually reciprocal.
So the study was small, with only 84 participants, so it’s nowhere even close to being considered robust enough for break through psychological research. That said, these findings are certainly intriguing enough to get some grant attention which could lead to a much larger study.
At the heart of the issue what is happening here is researchers were mapping friendships, but I think the truly fascinating part would be if they could explore the nature of the friendships where the person falsely inflated that degree of friendship. I want to know if over-estimating the sincerity of a friendship is something tied to particular personality traits or if it’s something that everyone falls victim to based on circumstance (or both). Either way, you’re not as popular as you think you are but I’m guessing you already knew that.
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