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5 Ways Our Friends Make Us Better and Stronger

friendsSocial scientists have been enthralled by the study of personal relationships for decades. Overwhelmingly, though, when they study relationships they mostly study just one kind of relationship – the romantic kind. Little by little, research on other relationships, such as friendships, is starting to appear. What we are learning is a lesson in valuing all of the important people in our lives, and not just spouses or romantic partners.

Below is a sampling of five research findings illustrating ways in which our friends make us better and stronger. As you will see, sometimes our friends do not even need to be present in order for them to make our lives better – just thinking about them will do the trick.

  1. Thinking about a friend makes people more inclined to help a stranger. In the study, people sitting alone in an airport who were prompted to think about good friend were more likely to agree to help a stranger. Something about friendship is what mattered. Asking people to think about an equal-status coworker they know well and have a good relationship with (but who is not a friend outside of work) did not result in the same willingness to help a stranger.
  2. People who are anxious in social situations are less likely to fumble in those situations when a friend is nearby than when they are alone. One way this works is that fewer negative thoughts about yourself run through your head when a friend is at your side.
  3. Challenges seem less challenging when you are with, or just think about, a friend. In the research, participants stood in front of a hill either alone or with a friend, then estimated the steepness of the hill. Those standing with a friend thought the hill was less steep. In another study, just thinking about a friend made a hill seem less steep when compared to thinking about a neutral person or a disliked person.
  4. Friends make foes seem smaller and less formidable. Men who were with a male friend saw a potential foe as smaller and less muscular than they did when they were alone.
  5. We are more modest in the ways we present ourselves to our friends. With strangers, we are more likely to toot our own horns.


  1. Fitzsimons, G. M., & Bargh, J. A. (2003). Thinking of you: Nonconscious pursuit of interpersonal goals associated with relationship partners. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 148-164.
  2. Pontari, B. A. (2009). Appearing socially competent: The effects of a friend’s presence on the socially anxious. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 283-294.
  3. Schnall, S., Harber, K. D., Stefanucci, J. K., & Proffitt, D. R. (2008). Social support and the perception of geographical slant. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44, 1246-1255.
  4. Fessler, D. M. T., & Holbrook, C. (2013). Friends shrink foes. Psychological Science, 24, 797-802.
  5. Tice, D. M., Butler, J. L., Muraven, M. B., & Stillwell, A. M. (1995). When modesty prevails: Differential favorability of self-presentation to friends and strangers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 1120-1138.

Group of friends image available from Shutterstock.

5 Ways Our Friends Make Us Better and Stronger

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single." Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2013). 5 Ways Our Friends Make Us Better and Stronger. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 May 2013
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