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A group of Germans at Allas Sea Pool, Helsinki, Finland. Traveling abroad together is a strong indicator of friendship.

Friendship is a relationship of mutual affection between people.[1] It is a stronger form of interpersonal bond than an "acquaintance" or an "association", such as a classmate, neighbor, coworker, or colleague.

In some cultures, the concept of friendship is restricted to a small number of very deep relationships; in others, such as the U.S. and Canada, a person could have many friends, plus perhaps a more intense relationship with one or two people, who may be called good friends or best friends. Other colloquial terms include besties or Best Friends Forever (BFFs). Although there are many forms of friendship, some of which may vary from place to place, certain characteristics are present in many such bonds. Such features include choosing to be with one another, enjoying time spent together, and being able to engage in a positive and supportive role to one another.[2]

Sometimes friends are distinguished from family, as in the saying "friends and family", and sometimes from lovers (e.g., "lovers and friends"), although the line is blurred with friends with benefits. The friend zone is a place where someone is restricted from rising up to the status of lover (see also Unrequited love).

Friendship has been studied in academic fields, such as communication, sociology, social psychology, anthropology, and philosophy. Various academic theories of friendship have been proposed, including social exchange theory, equity theory, relational dialectics, and attachment styles.

Developmental psychology


Young childhood friends

The understanding of friendship in children tends to be more heavily focused on areas such as common activities, physical proximity, and shared expectations.[3]: 498 [a] These friendships provide opportunity for playing and practicing self-regulation.[4]: 246  Most children tend to describe friendship in terms of things like sharing, and children are more likely to share with someone they consider to be a friend.[4]: 246 [5][6] As children mature, they become less individualized and are more aware of others. They gain the ability to empathize with their friends, and enjoy playing in groups. They also experience peer rejection as they move through the middle childhood years. Establishing good friendships at a young age helps a child to be better acclimated in society later on in their life.[5]

Based upon the reports of teachers and mothers, 75% of preschool children had at least one friend. This figure rose to 78% through the fifth grade, as measured by co-nomination as friends, and 55% had a mutual best friend.[4]: 247  About 15% of children were found to be chronically friendless, reporting periods without mutual friends at least six months.[4]: 250 

Studies have shown that friendships in childhood can assist in the development of certain skills, such as building empathy and learning different problem solving techniques.[7] Coaching from parents can be useful in helping children to make friends. Eileen Kennedy-Moore describes three key ingredients of children's friendship formation: (1) openness, (2) similarity, and (3) shared fun.[8][9][10] Parents can also help children understand social guidelines they haven't learned on their own.[11] Drawing from research by Robert Selman[12] and others, Kennedy-Moore outlines developmental stages in children's friendship, reflecting an increasing capacity to understand others' perspectives: "I Want It My Way", "What's In It For Me?", "By the Rules", "Caring and Sharing", and "Friends Through Thick and Thin."[13]


Two friends in Bhutan

In adolescence, friendships become "more giving, sharing, frank, supportive, and spontaneous." Adolescents tend to seek out peers who can provide such qualities in a reciprocal relationship, and to avoid peers whose problematic behavior suggest they may not be able to satisfy these needs.[14] Personal characteristics and dispositions are also features sought by adolescents, when choosing whom to begin a friendship with.[15] During adolescence, friendship relationships are more based on similar morals and values, loyalty, and shared interests than that of children, in which friendships stem from being in the same vacinity and access to playthings.[4]: 246 

One large study of American adolescents determined how their engagement in problematic behavior (such as stealing, fighting, and truancy) was related to their friendships. Findings indicated that adolescents were less likely to engage in problem behavior when their friends did well in school, participated in school activities, avoided drinking, and had good mental health. The opposite was found regarding adolescents who did engage in problematic behavior. Whether adolescents were influenced by their friends to engage in problem behavior depended on how much they were exposed to those friends, and whether they and their friendship groups "fit in" at school.[16]

Friendships formed during post-secondary education last longer than friendships formed earlier.[17] In late adolescence, cross-racial friendships tend to be uncommon, likely due to prejudice and cultural differences.[15]


Friendship in adulthood
Freundschaft zwischen Jonathan und David by Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld (1860), which translates in English as Friendship between Jonathan and David
Two friends before posing for a picture

Friendship in adulthood provides companionship, affection, as well as emotional support, and contributes positively to mental well-being and improved physical health.[18]: 426 

Adults may find it particularly difficult to maintain meaningful friendships in the workplace. "The workplace can crackle with competition, so people learn to hide vulnerabilities and quirks from colleagues. Work friendships often take on a transactional feel; it is difficult to say where networking ends and real friendship begins."[19] Unlike younger people, many adults value their financial well-being and security that their job provides rather than developing friendships with coworkers.[20]

The majority of adults have an average of two close friends.[21] Numerous studies with adults suggest that friendships and other supportive relationships do enhance self-esteem.[22]

Older adults

Older adults continue to report high levels of personal satisfaction in their friendships as they age, even as the overall number of friends tends to decline. This satisfaction is associated with an increased ability to accomplish activities of daily living, as well as a reduced decline in cognitive abilities, decreased instances of hospitalization, and better outcomes related to rehabilitation.[18]: 427  The overall number of reported friends in later life may be mediated by increased lucidity, better speech and vision, and marital status.[23]: 53  A decline in the number of friends an individual has as they become older has been explained by Carstensen's Socioemotional Selectivity Theory, which describes a change in motivation that adults experience when socializing. The theory states that an increase in age is characterized by a shift from information-gathering to emotional regulation; in order to maintain positive emotions, older adults restrict their social groups to those whom they share an emotional bond.[24]

As one review phrased it:

Research within the past four decades has now consistently found that older adults reporting the highest levels of happiness and general well being also report strong, close ties to numerous friends.[25]

As family responsibilities and vocational pressures lessen, friendships become more important. Among the elderly, friendships can provide links to the larger community, serve as a protective factor against depression and loneliness, and compensate for potential losses in social support previously given by family members.[26]: 32–33  Especially for people who cannot go out as often, interactions with friends allow for continued societal interaction. Additionally, older adults in declining health who remain in contact with friends show improved psychological well-being.[27]

Forming and maintaining

Forming and maintaining friendships often requires time and effort.

Some factors affect most people. For example, most people underestimate how much other people like them.[28][29][30] The liking gap can make it difficult to form friendships.[31]

Developmental issues

People with certain types of developmental disorders may struggle more than usual to make and maintain friendships.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may have difficulty forming and maintaining friendships, due to a limited ability to build social skills through observational learning, difficulties attending to social cues, and because of the social impacts of impulsive behavior and a greater tendency to engage in behavior that may be seen as disruptive by their peers.[32][33] In a 2007 review, no treatment was identified which effectively address peer functioning in children with ADHD, and treatments which addressed other aspects of the disorder were not found to eliminate issues related to peer functioning.[32]


Certain symptoms of autism spectrum disorders can interfere with the formation of interpersonal relations, such as a preference for routine actions, resistance to change, obsession with particular interests or rituals, and a lack of social skills. Autistic children have been found to be more likely to be close friends of one person, rather than having groups of friends. Additionally, they are more likely to be close friends of other children with some sort of a disability.[34] A sense of parental attachment aids in the quality of friendships in children with autism spectrum disorders; a sense of attachment with one's parents compensates for a lack of social skills that would usually inhibit friendships.[35]

A study done by Frankel et al. showed that parental intervention and instruction plays an important role in such children developing friendships.[36] Along with parental intervention, school professionals play an important role in teaching social skills and peer interaction. Paraprofessionals, specifically one-on-one aides and classroom aides, are often placed with children with autism spectrum disorders in order to facilitate friendships and guide the child in making and maintaining substantial friendships.[37]

Although lessons and training may help peers of children with autism, bullying is still a major concern in social situations. According to Anahad O'Connor of The New York Times, bullying is most likely to occur against children with autism spectrum disorders who have the most potential to live independently. Such children are more at risk because they have as many of the rituals and lack of social skills as children who are more visibly autistic, but they are more likely to be mainstreamed in school. Autistic children have more difficulty attending to social cues, and so may not always recognize when they are being bullied.[38]

Down syndrome

Children with Down syndrome have increased difficulty forming friendships. They experience a language delay causing them to have a harder time playing with other children. Most children with Down syndrome may prefer to watch other students and play alongside a friend but not with them, mostly because they understand more than they can outwardly express. In preschool years, children with Down syndrome can benefit from the classroom setting, surrounded by other children and less dependent on adult aid. Children with this disability benefit from a variety of interactions with both adults and children. At school, ensuring an inclusive environment in the classroom can be difficult, but proximity to close friends can be crucial for social development.[39][40]


Studies have found that strong social supports improve a person's prospects for good health and longevity. Conversely, loneliness and a lack of social supports have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, viral infections, and cancer, as well as higher mortality rates overall. Two researchers have even termed friendship networks a "behavioral vaccine" that boosts both physical and mental health.[41]

There is a large body of research linking friendship and health, but the precise reasons for the connection remain unclear. Most of the studies in this area are large prospective studies that follow people over time, and while there may be a correlation between the two variables (friendship and health status), researchers still do not know if there is a cause and effect relationship, such as the notion that good friendships actually improve health. A number of theories have attempted to explain this link. These theories have included that good friends encourage their friends to lead more healthy lifestyles; that good friends encourage their friends to seek help and access services when needed; that good friends enhance their friends' coping skills in dealing with illness and other health problems; and that good friends actually affect physiological pathways that are protective of health.[42]

Mental health

The lack of friendship has been found to play a role in increasing risk of suicidal ideation among female adolescents, including having more friends who were not themselves friends with one another. However, no similar effect was observed for males.[43][44] Having few or no friends is a major indicator in the diagnosis of a range of mental disorders.[14]

Higher friendship quality directly contributes to self-esteem, self-confidence, and social development.[22] A World Happiness Database study found that people with close friendships are happier, although the absolute number of friends did not increase happiness.[45] Other studies have suggested that children who have friendships of a high quality may be protected against the development of certain disorders, such as anxiety and depression.[46][47] Conversely, having few friends is associated with dropping out of school, as well as aggression, and adult crime.[3]: 500  Peer rejection is also associated with lower later aspiration in the workforce, and participation in social activities, while higher levels of friendship was associated with higher adult self-esteem.[3]: 500–01 


The dissolution of a friendship may be viewed as a personal rejection, or may be the result of natural changes over time, as friends grow more distant both physically and emotionally. The disruption of friendships has been associated with increased guilt, anger and depression, and may be highly stressful events, especially in childhood. However, potential negative effects can be mitigated if the dissolution of a friendship is replaced with another close relationship.[4]: 248 


Friends tend to be more similar to one another in terms of age, gender, behavior, substance abuse, personal disposition, and academic performance.[4]: 248 [18]: 426 [25]: 55–56  In ethnically diverse countries, there is broad evidence that children and adolescents tend to form friendships with others of the same race or ethnicity, beginning in preschool, and peaking in middle or late childhood.[4]: 264 

Gender differences

In general, female-female friendship interactions among children tend to focus on interpersonal connections and mutual support. In contrast, male-male interaction tends to be more focused on social status. As a result, they may actively discourage the expression of emotional needs.[48]: 320–02 

Females report more anxiety, jealousy, and relational victimization and less stability related to their friendships. Males, on the other hand, report higher levels of physical victimization. Nevertheless, males and females tend to report relative satisfaction levels with their friendships.[4]: 249–50 

Women tend to be more expressive and intimate in their same-sex friendships and have a smaller range of friends.[15] Males are more likely to define intimacy in terms of shared physical experiences. In contrast, females are more likely to define it in shared emotional ones. Males are less likely to make emotional or personal disclosures to other males because they could use this information against them. However, they will disclose this information to females (as they are not in competition with them), and males tend to regard friendships with females as more meaningful, intimate, and pleasant. Male-male friendships are generally more like alliances, while female-female friendships are much more attachment-based. As a result, this also means that the end of male-male friendships tends to be less emotionally upsetting than that of female-female friendships.[49][50]

Women tend to be more socially adept than their male peers among older adults. As a result, many older men may rely upon a female companion, such as a spouse, to compensate for their comparative lack of social skills.[25]: 55  One study found that women in Europe and North America were slightly more likely than men to self-report having a best friend.[51]


Which relationships count as true friendships, rather than as an acquaintance or a co-worker, varies by culture. In English-speaking cultures, it is not unusual for people to include weaker relationships as being friends.[52] In other cultures, such as the Russian and Polish cultures, only the most significant relationships are considered friends. A Russian might have one or two friends plus a large number of "pals" or acquaintances; a Canadian in similar circumstances might count all of these relationships as being friends.[52]

In Western cultures, friendships are often seen as lesser to familial or romantic.[53]

When discussing taboos of friendship it was found that Chinese respondents found more than their British counterparts.[15][ambiguous]


A man with an Indian palm squirrel (Funambulus palmarum)

Friendship is found among animals of higher intelligence, such as higher mammals and some birds. Cross-species friendships are common between humans and domestic animals. Cross-species friendships may also occur between two non-human animals, such as dogs and cats.

See also


  1. ^ In comparison to older respondents, who tend to describe friendship in terms of psychological rather than mostly physical aspects.[3]: 498 


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Further reading

External links