Good Friends Are Good for You
They might get on your nerves at times, but good friends have bigger benefits than you may realize.
The Impact of Loneliness
What about loners? Are they at greater risk of dying because they prefer to
Only if they feel lonely. One study found that drug use among young people
was higher among those who said they were lonely. Older lonely people tended to
have higher blood pressure and poorer sleep quality. They also were more tense
Another study found that college freshmen who had small social networks and
claimed to be lonely had weaker immune responses to flu vaccinations. They also
had higher levels of stress hormones in their blood.
Unfortunately, Americans have fewer friends than they used to, according to
a recent study, "Social Isolation in America," published in the
American Sociological Review. The authors found that from 1985 to 2004,
the number of Americans who feel they have someone with whom they can discuss
important matters dropped by nearly one-third. The number of people who said
they had no one they could discuss such matters with tripled to nearly 25%. The
authors suspect that long work hours and the popularity of the Internet may
contribute to the decline in close relationships.
The study also found that the percentage of people who talk about important
matters only to family members increased from 57% to 80%. Those who depend
solely on their spouse for these talks increased from 5% to 9%.
How Women's Friendships Are Different From Men's
In general, women are better at maintaining friendships than men. Women
"tend and befriend," says Shelley E. Taylor, PhD, a psychology
professor at UCLA. They respond to stress by protecting and nurturing others
("tending"), and by seeking support from others
("befriending"). This pattern regulates the seeking, giving, and
receipt of social support, Taylor says. It produces health benefits by reducing
psychological and biological stress.
And Margaret Gibbs, PhD, a professor of psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson
University, found that men and women relate to others differently throughout
"We found that women seemed more geared to empathy, while male
friendships are more geared to companionship and altruism," she tells
WebMD. "Male friendships are more about helping each other -- mending the
lawn mower, that sort of thing. Women's friendships tend to have a more
emotional content -- listening to friends' stories and coming up with helpful
Published January 2007.