Keeping up with “friends”: true friendships are a time investment

23 January 2012

Sure your friend count says you have over 200 friends but how many of these so-called “friends” would you actually consider calling up on a Friday night to go out to a movie?

The use of social network sites such as MySpace, Friendster, Bebo and of course Facebook (the most frequently used social network in Canada) have now become part of the daily (or sometimes hourly) routine for millions of teens worldwide. These social networks are designed to allow users to keep up with friends and family in a way that is fun, interactive, and easy to use.

These sites have also managed to introduce a new virtual method of acquiring friends: by the simple click of a mouse. This has recently given rise to a new group of users referred to as “friend collectors.” Friend collectors make a hobby out of acquiring as many friends online as possible.

There are even the more coveted “trophy friends,” which the true collectors will try to get. These trophy friends are usually infamous people or celebrities with Facebook accounts, such as the UK singer Lily Allen.


Did You Know?
There are more then 43 million active users of Facebook, and the website has more than 54 billion page views per month.

How Far Can Our Social Network Expand?

While the Facebook says it’s “a social utility that connects you with the people around you”, many researchers are now starting to question whether Facebook is really an effective tool for forming new friendships and maintaining them.

Recent research done in England showed that the average person has a friendship circle of about 150 individuals, suggesting that cognitive constraints must limit how many people we can keep track of and incorporate into our lives.


Did You Know?
A recent survey of 200 random network users revealed that despite social networking, people still have only around 5 close friends. 90% of their “friends” were people they had met face to face, while the remaining 10% were characterized as “low-risk” friendships because they had mutual friends in common. The new friend typically demonstrated similar attributes and interests as the mutual friend. The Science Behind Friendships

Scientists have shown that face-to-face contact is a requirement of close relationships. This is because there are a lot of emotional cues that can be observed face to face, such as smiling or laughing.

In the human brain, it is the limbic system that integrates all these emotional cues with stored memories of physical sensations. Together, this influences the formation of new memories that we will come to associate with a person.

One part of the limbic system that plays a key role in this process is the amygdala - a little almond shaped structure deep inside a region of the temporal lobe that connects with the hippocampus, the septal nuclei, parts of the thalamus and the prefrontal area. It is here that many of our emotional activities such as friendships, relationships, and other motivational behaviours are controlled.


Did You Know?
Humans with marked lesions of the amygdala lose the ability to recognize well-known people as well as the ability to remember whether they like or dislike a person. Real Friends vs. Virtual Acquaintances

Although social networking sites help decrease the cost of maintaining friendships, like being able to send messages to several people at once or advertise events to a larger group of people, you cannot escape the fact that true friendships are a time investment.

With a true friend we invest time and effort in hopes of creating a reciprocal relationship. In the virtual world, it is much easier to write fake messages involving extreme emotions than it is to say these things in person.

Face to face contact with a person involves an intimacy in which you can read the other person’s facial expression and evaluate how sincere their comments are to you. This gives you the opportunity to ensure that your investment in the relationship is worthwhile.

So although you and your friend may still have a bet going on to see who can reach the 1,000 “friends” count first, just remember to be realistic and realize that not all these friends will be there to offer you financial aid or support if you were to land yourself in a sticky situation!

Learn More!

ScienceDaily: Is Social Networking Changing The Face of Friendship?

Limbic System: The Center of Emotions

It’s hard to make close friends on Facebook, study says

Social Network Sites: Definition and Conception

Facebook Press Room Statistics. Facebook.

Geist, Micheal. Getting social networking sites to socialize. The Star.

It’s hard to make close friends on Facebook, study says. CBC News.

Knight, Matthew. Real friends and virtual strangers. CNN.

Randerson, James. Social networking sites don’t deepen friendships. Guardian Unlimited.

Rocha do Amaral, Julio, MD, et al. Limbic System: The Center of Emotions. The Healing Arts.

Kristine Cooper is in her final year at McGill University, working towards attaining her BSc in Anatomy and Cell Biology. She confesses to using Facebook in her spare time. As well, she enjoys running, reading and exploring new places.


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