Turns out, we are bad judges of friendship. A new study has found that most of the time, the bond is like a one-way street as only half of your friends consider you a friend in return. According to the study from Tel Aviv University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, people have a very poor perception of friendship ties, and this limits their ability to influence their “friends.”
If researchers can understand this limitation, companies and social groups that depend on social influence for collective action, information dissemination and product promotion could improve their strategies and interventions.
“It turns out that we’re very bad at judging who our friends are,” said researcher Dr Erez Shmueli, adding, “And our difficulty determining the reciprocity of friendship significantly limits our ability to engage in cooperative arrangements. We learned that we can’t rely on our instincts or intuition. There must be an objective way to measure these relationships and quantify their impact.”
The researchers conducted extensive social experiments and analysed the data from other studies to determine the percentage of reciprocal friendships and their impact on human behaviour. The team also examined six friendship surveys from some 600 students in Israel, Europe and the United States to assess friendship levels and expectations of reciprocity.
They then developed an algorithm that examines several objective features of a perceived friendship (that is, the number of common friends or the total number of friends) and is able to distinguish between the two different kinds of friendship: unidirectional or reciprocal.
Dr Shmueli noted, “We found that 95% of participants thought that their relationships were reciprocal. If you think someone is your friend, you expect him to feel the same way. But in fact that’s not the case. Only 50% of those polled matched up in the bidirectional friendship category.”
The researchers found that their “friendship algorithm” determined with an extremely high level of accuracy the reciprocal or unidirectional nature of a friendship. “Our algorithm not only tells us whether a friendship is reciprocal or not. It also determines in which direction the friendship is ‘felt’ in unilateral friendships,” Dr Shmueli added. The study appears in journal PLOS ONE.