Tag Archives: #friends

Friends Matter: Giraffes that Group with Others Live Longer (Biology)

Adult female giraffes who spend time in larger groups with other females live longer than less sociable individuals. The effects of sociability on survival outweigh other factors such as environment or human presence, a study of giraffes in Tanzania led by the University of Zurich has shown.

A research team led by Monica Bond, research associate at the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies of the University of Zurich (UZH), studied giraffes in Tanzania for five years. The biologists examined the relative effects of sociability, the natural environment, and human factors on survival of the mega-herbivore. They have now shown that adult female giraffes living in larger groups have higher survival chances than more socially isolated individuals.

Gregariousness leads to better survival

Giraffe group formations are dynamic and change throughout the day, but adult females maintain many specific friendships over the long term. “Grouping with more females, called gregariousness, is correlated with better survival of female giraffes, even as group membership is frequently changing,” says Bond. “This aspect of giraffe sociability is even more important than attributes of their non-social environment such as vegetation and nearness to human settlements.”

The benefits of many friends

Aside from poaching, the main causes of adult female giraffe mortality are likely to be disease, stress or malnutrition, all of which are interconnected stressors. “Social relationships can improve foraging efficiency, and help manage intraspecific competition, predation, disease risk and psychosocial stress,” says UZH professor Barbara König, senior author of the study. Female giraffes may seek out and join together with an optimal number of other females in order to share and obtain information about the highest-quality food sources. Other benefits to living in larger groups might be lowering stress levels by reducing harassment from males, cooperating in caring for young, or simply experiencing physiological benefits by being around familiar females. The study also finds that females living closer to towns had lower survival rates, possibly due to poaching.

Social habits similar to humans and primates

The team documented the social behaviors of the wild free-ranging giraffes using network analysis algorithms similar to those used by big-data social media platforms. According to the results, the giraffes are surprisingly similar in their social habits to humans and other primates, for whom greater social connectedness offers more opportunities. Chimpanzees and gorillas, for example, live in communities where ties between many individuals facilitate the flexibility of feeding strategies. “It seems to be beneficial for female giraffes to connect with a greater number of others and develop a sense of larger community, but without a strong sense of exclusive subgroup affiliation,” adds Monica Bond.

Featured image: Female giraffes benefit from living in groups with several other females. (Image: Sonja Metzger)


M. L. Bond, D. E. Lee, D. R. Farine, A. Ozgul, and B. König. Sociability increases survival of adult female giraffes. 10 February 2021. Proceeding of the Royal Society B. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2020.2770

Provided by University of Zurich

You Are Genetically Similar to Your Friend (Biology)

Choosing friends is not as random as it may appear. There are subconscious factors that induce liking for specific people who are not relatives. Many people are willing to sacrifice limited resources for close friends. Animals would find it bizarre that an organism would share resources with others who are not genetically related. In fact, many scientists believe that the explosion in the size and intricacy of the frontal cortex of humans is mainly because of our complex social ties. Why are we drawn to some people and repelled by others? Is it true that “Birds of a feather flock together” and why?

The answers lie in data analyzed from the multi-generational Framingham Heart Study (FHS) that started in 1948 to investigate environmental and genetic factors influencing cardiovascular diseases. Fowler and Christakis examined the genome of participants and their friends. Specifically, they analyzed close to 1.5 million markers of gene variations to measure the degree of genetic similarity between a participant and his/her friend versus a stranger (1). The researchers ensured that the paired participant and his/her friend were not related. They also controlled for shared ancestry. They found that friends were more genetically “related” to each other than to strangers. In fact, the genetic similarity between a pair of friends was similar to fourth cousins! Because the researchers controlled for ancestry, the genetic similarity is unlikely due to shared ancestry (also most participants were white).

What genes are we likely to share with friends?

The researchers examined the topmost similar genes between friends and the results were surprising. Top candidates were genes implicated in olfaction (sense of smell) and in linoleic acid metabolism! These results indicate that friends smell things the same way, and/or that certain environments with characteristic odors attract people making them more likely to become friends. Just like infants can accurately identify their mothers’ odors, so can friends! In one study, participants were able to distinguish friends from strangers based on blind odor tests (2). Olfaction is crucial for survival. For example, rotten food smells bad, so we don’t eat it. In the same vain, dissimilarity in olfaction genes may compel us to avoid others with incompatible smells. Also, olfaction is a sensory dimension of many emotional experiences. Thus, odors can increase/decrease emotional connections.

Another genetic similarity in friend pairs was in genes related to linoleic acid metabolism. Linoleic acid is a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid mostly in plant oils (3,4). It is prevalent in the Western diet and found in vegetable oils and nuts. It is also commonly used in cosmetic and personal care products. Linoleic acid is involved in many bodily processes. These genes are involved in the pathway related to metabolism of cholesterol, steroid and various ingested substances (1). Perhaps, this genetic similarity may affect preference for food, similarity in metabolism of food or even risk for disease. A study conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that replacing either saturated fat or carbohydrate with vegetable oils rich in linoleic acid may reduce risk for developing coronary heart disease (5). It not surprising that a longitudinal study that closely followed participants for 32 years found that people were more likely to become obese when a friend became obese. Precisely, it increased the person’s chances of becoming obese by a whopping 57% (6). Perhaps, the genetic similarity for linoleic acid metabolism is one of many factors leading to similarity in obesity among friends.

How about “opposites attract”?

There is a survival value in selecting others who complement our shortages. In the gene wide search for genetic similarity among friends, researchers found a more limited number of genes that were negatively correlated among friends. Specifically, genes that are implicated in the immune system. In other words, we subconsciously select friends who are immunologically different than us. This too makes sense! It is advantageous that you and your friend would be susceptible to different pathogens or diseases. If you are resistant to pathogen ‘X’ but not ‘Y’ and your friend is resistant to pathogen ‘Y’ but not ‘X’. Then, when you are both exposed to pathogen ‘Y’, you are likely to get sick, but not your friend. Thus, your friend can take care of you (instead of both of you being sick, if you were resistant to the same pathogens). This also prevents the spread of diseases in social circles.

Friendships are most salient during adolescence. Are adolescents also more genetically similar to their friends than strangers?

Using data from the Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) study, researchers echoed the same findings in a sample of 5,500 adolescents. Friends were more genetically similar to one another than to randomly selected peers (7). Specifically, genetic scores were positively correlated for BMI and educational attainment among friends, but not for height. They also found that schoolmates were more genetically similar to one another compared with random pairs of individuals. These findings suggest that specific environments may attract individuals who are genetically similar (but not related). In fact, when genetic similarity among schoolmates is compared with genetic similarity among friends, similarity between friends was attenuated. Sharing the same environment (school) contributed significantly to the genetic similarity between friends. It is worth mentioning that friends were still more genetically similar than random schoolmates.

It seems that human beings have a sub-conscious that selects friends based on synergy in some genes and complementarity in others. Indeed, friends are the family we chose. A friend can be defined as a ‘functional kin’ who was selected in accordance with this genetic pattern. Also, we are drawn to others we ‘conveniently’ find in our social environment. Of course, genes increase/decrease our gravitation to or avoidance of certain social environments, respectively (chicken and egg problem). It seems like Randy Newman was quite correct when he sang “you’ve got a friend in me”- at least science agrees with him! Now, go hug your friend, or shall we say “cousin.”

References: (1) Christakis, N. A. & Fowler, J. H. (2014). Friendship and Natural Selection. PNAS (111), 10796-10801. (2)  Weisfeld GE, Czilli T, Phillips KA, Gall JA, Lichtman CM (2003). Possible olfaction-based mechanisms in human kin recognition and inbreeding avoidance. J Exp Child Psychol, 85(3), 279–295. (3) Belury, M. A. (2002). Dietary conjugated linoleic acid in health: physiological effects and mechanisms of action. Annu Rev Nutr, 22,505–531. (4) Whelan, J. & Fritsche, K. (2013). Linoleic Acid. Advances in Nutrition, 4(3), 311-312. (5)   https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2014/11/05/dietary-linoleic-acid-and-risk-of-coronary-heart-disease/ (6)  Cohen-Cole, E., & Fletcher, J. M. (2008). Is obesity contagious? Social networks vs. environmental factors in the obesity epidemic. Journal of health economics, 27(5), 1382–1387. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhealeco.2008.04.005 (7) Domingue, B. W. et al. (2018). The Social genome of friends and schoolmates in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. PNAS, 115(4), 702-707.

This article is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses

How We Become Who We Are? (Psychiatry)

Who am I? This is a question we ask ourselves throughout our lives. To answer it, we look to role models, create our own narratives and take selfies that show how we want to be seen. The new UZH Magazine explores aspects of our identity.

The editors asked people of different ages who they were. The picture shows Michelle Huber (26) – she studied political science, gender studies and philosophy at UZH and is currently writing her Master’s thesis. (Image: Cyrill Matter)

Who am I? It’s a question most of us will have asked at some stage in our lives. And if you’ve failed to find a clear and conclusive answer, you needn’t worry. Our self-identity is extremely elusive and malleable. This has to do with our fascinating ability to adapt and change. For example, we act and feel differently when we meet with friends or family than when we’re in public or at work. And how we see and define ourselves keeps changing at different stages in our lives.

For this edition’s focus topic, the UZH Magazin editorial team spoke with UZH researchers about how we become who we are. Who we are isn’t up to us alone. Our self-image is also shaped by our environment. To be accepted by those around us, we submit to social patterns and adapt to fit the mold. This is particularly challenging for young people, who are yet to find their identity and place in the world. It is evident in the many, many selfies they post to social media. These self-portraits are often believed to express our own self and unmistakable identity. However, the research of educational scientist Clarissa Schär shows that these pictures aren’t a manifestation of our individuality but of what is considered as accepted, as most young people strive to conform to certain roles and norms.

One of the central elements of who we are is our gender. And yet our gender identity is more complex and diverse than the conventional understanding of man and woman. “Masculinity and femininity aren’t absolutes,” says psychiatrist Dagmar Pauli, “you can be more or less masculine or feminine.” Fixed categories that define our gender identity are problematic especially for trans people, whose biological gender doesn’t correspond with who they feel they are. This conflict causes many trans people great suffering. Gender researcher Katrin Meyer questions the need to legally define people via their gender and believes a third, non-binary category, the so-called zero gender, should be introduced for official documents in Switzerland, as was the case in Germany.

What role do our genes play when it comes to developing our identity? The research of social genomics expert Michael Shanahan explores the interface between biology and the environment. He has come to the conclusion that these factors mutually influence each other. The way they interact ultimately shapes who we are and who we will become.

Provided by University Of Zurich

Male Baboons That Have Close Female Friends Live Longer (Biology / Animals)

People who are more socially integrated or have higher socio-economic status live longer. Recent studies in non-human primates show striking convergences with this human pattern: female primates with more social partners, stronger social bonds or higher dominance rank all lead longer lives.

Drawing on 35 years of data, a new study of more than 540 baboons in Amboseli National Park in Kenya finds that male baboons that have close female friends have higher rates of survival than those who don’t.

However, it remains unclear whether social environments also predict survival in male non-human primates, as it does in men. This gap persists because, in most primates, males disperse among social groups, resulting in many males who disappear with unknown fate and have unknown dates of birth.

Researchers in this study presented a Bayesian model to estimate the effects of time-varying social covariates on age-specific adult mortality in both sexes of wild baboons. They compared how the survival trajectories of both sexes are linked to social bonds and social status over the life.

And what they found? They found that, parallel to females, male baboons who are more strongly bonded to females have longer lifespans. However, males with higher dominance rank for their age appear to have shorter lifespans. This finding brings new understanding to the adaptive significance of heterosexual social bonds for male baboons: in addition to protecting the male’s offspring from infanticide, these bonds may have direct benefits to males themselves.

References: Fernando A. Campos et al. Social bonds, social status and survival in wild baboons: a tale of two sexes, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (2020). DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2019.0621 link: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rstb.2019.0621

Your Drunk Self May Actually Be Real You (Psychology)

Who do you become when you drink a little too much alcohol? Maybe you’re the party animal, dancing on tables and singing at the top of your lungs. Maybe you’re the drama queen, getting teary-eyed and overly emotional over a text you sent your ex two months ago. Or perhaps you’re the ray of sunshine, complimenting the outfits of everyone at the bar and insisting you’ll all hang out sometime. According to research, your drunk alter ego isn’t a separate identity at all. That’s the real you, pal.

If you’re of legal drinking age, we’ve got news — whether it’s news you’re ready to cope with or not. Research says that your drunk self is probably not as far off from your actual personality as you think it is. Though it may feel like you’re a completely different person when you’re in the club getting tipsy, a 2017 study published in Clinical Psychological Science found that your drunk persona doesn’t differ from your sober one, more or less. Basically, you’re always that special, unique, wonderful you, no matter how many tequila shots you foolishly ended up taking on your birthday.

For the study, the researchers from University of Missouri and Purdue University sought to find out if “drunk personalities” are a thing or not. They specifically tested if “differences between sober and intoxicated personality expression can be observed reliably” by friends during some drunk game-playing. Two weeks prior to the experiment, the researchers had the 156 participants complete surveys describing their typical sober and drunk personalities. Next, the team gave half of the participants booze, then had their friends join them in the lab to play games meant to bring out different personality traits. The drinkers rated their own in-the-moment personality traits during the session while trained (and sober) raters assessed the same traits. While the drinkers noted personality differences in themselves while drunk, the sober onlookers didn’t see any big differences between their sober and drunk personalities. Except for one thing: the drinks made those participants more extroverted. Obviously.

“We were surprised to find such a discrepancy between drinkers’ perceptions of their own alcohol-induced personalities and how observers perceived them,” said lead author Rachel Winograd, a psychological scientist at University of Missouri, in a press release. “Participants reported experiencing differences in all factors of the Five Factor Model of personality, but extraversion was the only factor robustly perceived to be different across participants in alcohol and sober conditions.”

As for why you feel like an entirely different being when you’ve been a bit overserved? Probably just the placebo effect. If you have it in your head that tequila makes you wild or wine makes you emotional, you’ll make those expectations come true all on your own. Kind of impressive, actually. Cheers!

Are Your Friends Cooler Than You Are? Blame The Friendship Paradox (Psychology)

Have you ever felt like everyone else has so much more to be thankful for? Check your Facebook or Instagram feed: Your friends seem to dine at finer restaurants, take more exotic vacations, and have more accomplished children. They even have cuter pets!

Rest assured, it’s an illusion, one that’s rooted in a property of social networks known as the friendship paradox. The paradox, first formulated by sociologist Scott Feld, states that “your friends are more popular than you are, on average.” This property combines with other peculiarities of social networks to create an illusion.

What the friendship paradox means is this: If I asked you who your friends are, and then I met them, on the whole, I would find them to be better socially connected than you. Of course, if you are an exceptionally gregarious person, the paradox won’t apply to you. But for most of us, it is likely to hold.

While this paradox can occur in any social network, it is rampant online. One study found that 98 percent of Twitter users subscribe to accounts that have more followers than they themselves do.

Although it sounds strange, the friendship paradox has a simple mathematical explanation.

Each person’s social circle of friends is different. Most of us have some friends, and then there are well-connected people like David Rockefeller, the onetime CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank, whose address book included more than 100,000 people!

On social media, celebrities like Justin Bieber can have more than 100 million followers. It’s this small group of hyperconnected people — people with many friends, who are part of your social circle — that increases the average popularity of your friends.

This is the mathematical double whammy at the heart of the friendship paradox. Not only does the extraordinary popularity of people like Justin Bieber skew the average popularity of friends for anyone they are connected to, but even though people like him are rare, they also appear in an extraordinary number of social circles.

And the friendship paradox is not a mere mathematical curiosity. It has useful applications in forecasting trends and monitoring disease. Researchers have used it to predict trending topics on Twitter weeks before they became popular and to spot flu outbreaks in their early stages and devise efficient strategies to manage the disease.

Here’s how it can work: Imagine, for example, that you arrive in an African village with only five doses of Ebola vaccine. The best strategy is not to vaccinate the first five people you happen to meet but to ask those people who their friends are and vaccinate those five friends. If you do this, you are likely to pick people who have wider social circles and thus would infect more people were they to get sick. Vaccinating friends would be more effective at stopping the spread of Ebola than inoculating random people who may be on the periphery of a social network and not connected to many others.

There’s more. Remarkably, a stronger version of the friendship paradox holds for many people: Most of your friends have more friends than you do. Let that sink in. I’m no longer talking about averages, where a single exceptionally popular friend could skew the average popularity of your friends.

What this means is that the majority of your friends are better socially connected than you are. Go ahead and try it for yourself. Click on the name of each friend on Twitter and see how many followers they have and how many accounts they are following. I am willing to bet that most numbers are bigger than yours.

Stranger still, this paradox holds not just for popularity but for other traits as well, like enthusiasm for using social media, dining at fine restaurants, or taking exotic vacations. As a concrete example, consider how frequently someone posts updates on Twitter.

It is true that most of the people you follow post more status updates than you do. Also, most of the people you follow receive more novel and diverse information than you do. And most of the people you follow receive more viral information that ends up spreading much farther than what you see in your feed.

This stronger version of the friendship paradox can lead to a “majority illusion,” in which a trait that is rare in a network as a whole appears to be common within many social circles. Imagine that few people, in general, are redheads, yet it appears to many people that most of their friends have red hair. All it takes for the illusion that “red hair is common” to take hold is for a few hyperconnected influencers to be redheads.

The majority illusion can explain why you may notice that your friends seem to be doing more exciting things: People who are more socially connected disproportionately influence what we see and learn on social media. This helps explain why adolescents overestimate the prevalence of binge drinking on college campuses and why some topics appear to be more popular on Twitter than they really are.

The majority illusion can distort your perceptions of the lives of others. People who are better socially connected than the rest of us may also do more notable things, like dining at Michelin-starred restaurants or vacationing in Bora Bora. They are also more active on social media and more likely to Instagram their lives, distorting our perceptions of how common those things are. A good way to mitigate the illusion is to stop comparing yourself to friends and be thankful for what you have.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Phone Calls Create Stronger Bonds Than Text-Based Communications (Psychology)

New research from the University of Texas at Austin suggests people too often opt to send email or text messages when a phone call is more likely to produce the feelings of connectedness they crave.

They carried out an experiment on 200 people in which they asked those people to make predictions about what it would be like to reconnect with an old friend either via email or phone, and then they randomly assigned them to actually do it. Even though participants intuited that a phone call would make them feel more connected, they still said they would prefer to email because they expected calling would be too awkward.

But the phone call went much better than an email, researchers found.

In one another experiment, researchers randomly assigned strangers to connect either by texting during a live chat, talking over video chat, or talking using only audio. Participants had to ask and answer a series of personal questions such as, “Is there something you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?” or “Can you describe a time you cried in front of another person?”

Participants didn’t expect that the media through which they communicated would matter, and in this case they also predicted that they would feel just as connected to the stranger via text as by phone.

But the researchers found when they really interacted, people felt significantly more connected when they communicated by talking than by typing. And, again, they found it wasn’t more awkward to hear each other’s voices.

In fact, the voice itself—even without visual cues—seemed to be integral to bonding, the researchers found.

Confronting another myth about voice-based media, researchers timed participants reconnecting with their old friend. They found the call took about the same amount of time as reading and responding to email.

According to researchers, the results both reveal and challenge people’s assumptions about communication media at a time when managing relationships via technology is especially important.

References: Amit Kumar et al. It’s surprisingly nice to hear you: Misunderstanding the impact of communication media can lead to suboptimal choices of how to connect with others., Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (2020). DOI: 10.1037/xge0000962

Identical Twins Can’t Tell Themselves Apart, Either (Psychology)

In the most annoying things an identical twin hears on the regular, “Can you tell each other apart?” is right up there with “Can you read each other’s minds?” and “Who’s the evil one?” But according to several studies, it’s not as silly a question as you might think. Identical twins actually do have trouble telling who’s who in photographs — and it can be even harder depending on their relationship style.

Despite the popularity of the question, there hasn’t been a ton of research into what happens when twins see each other’s faces. There have, however, been plenty of studies into what happens when a non-twin sees his or her own face in comparison with other faces. Basically, it jumps out at you.

People recognize their own faces in a lineup much faster than even those of celebrities or close friends, a phenomenon scientists call “self-face advantage.” That makes sense since you see your own face more than any other. Plus, there’s an evolutionary advantage: can you imagine what would happen if you regularly mistook your reflection for a threatening stranger?

But an identical twin has a different situation. He sees his own face more than any other, sure, but his twin’s face probably comes at a close second. And studies have shown that while people recognizing other faces usually take in the whole face as a unit, people recognizing their own face use individual features — and identical twins share a whole lot of features. And while babies can generally recognize themselves in the mirror by age two, a 1987 study showed that identical twin babies only differentiated between themselves and their twins after looking at them for a long time. So for an Ig Nobel Prize-winning study published in PLOS One in 2015, Italian researchers set out to determine whether identical twins had that “self-face advantage” when it came to each other’s faces.

The researchers recruited 30 volunteers in total: 10 pairs of identical twins, and 10 non-twins to act as controls, all with an equal number of men and women. The volunteers were shown a series of cropped black-and-white pictures of themselves, their twin, and a close friend or family member (sometimes right side up, sometimes upside down) for one second apiece and asked to identify who they were each time. The controls saw themselves and a pair of twins. They did this in four sessions, seeing 336 pictures in all.

Interestingly, twins took longer to recognize themselves than they did to recognize their friends, even though non-twin volunteers did the opposite. It also took the twins just as long to recognize their own twin as it did for them to recognize themselves. That suggests that twins don’t have a “self-face advantage” — the time it takes them to distinguish whether they’re seeing themselves and their twin destroys any advantage there might have been.

The volunteers also took personality tests, so the researchers were able to delve even deeper into the data. They found that if a twin scored high on markers of avoidant or anxious relationship styles (that is, if they were either overly dependent on relationships or had an unusually low attachment to them) they had a harder time identifying their own face. But that suggests that the opposite is also true. Well-adjusted take heart!

Hanging With your Friends Can Help You Live Longer (Psychology)

Ever wish you could cancel plans with friends in favor of staying in and watching TV? Been there. But as tempting as it is to stay in and binge-watch Legion, you will always be better served by hanging out with friends. In fact, one study found that low social integration is as bad for you as alcoholism, obesity and smoking nearly a pack a day.

According to a 2010 study in PLOS Medicine, low social interaction is a definite risk factor for death, and can impact your longevity in startling ways. The researchers found that it can do as much harm as alcoholism or smoking, and even more harm than lack of exercise or obesity. They reached these conclusions by performing a meta-analysis of 148 studies. The data suggested that maintaining connections with your social network can improve your chances of survival by 50%, regardless of your age.

Why are friends such a strong indicator of a longer life? There are a few possibilities, but one popular theory is that friends encourage healthy behaviors. “Our relationships encourage us to eat healthy, get exercise, get more sleep, see a doctor,” Julianne Holt-Lunstad, associate professor of psychology at Brigham Young, told The New York Times. In other words, your best pal might force you to see a doctor when you find a strange mole, or drag you to the gym for company at a spin class. So don’t be surprised at your next check if your doctor prescribes exercise, vitamins, and a healthy dose of socializing.

References: Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Med 7(7): e1000316. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316