41 Reasons People Make Friends
People form friendships for personal, social, and practical reasons.
Posted May 24, 2021 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina
- Motivations for making friends include social support, mating, socializing, career advancement, and attraction to desirable traits.
- In general, reasons that motivate friendship may be divided into those for true friendship and those for opportunistic friendship.
- Some cultures, like the American culture, may value opportunistic friendship more than true friendship.
I have previously reported on research concerning reasons people fail to make friends. But here is a more basic question: Why do we make friends, anyway? In the present article, I review a new study by Apostolou and colleagues, published in the March 2021 issue of Personal Relationship, that investigates people’s motivations for making friends.
The theme of friendship can be seen everywhere; for instance, in many memorable movies (e.g., Toy Story, Clueless, Mean Girls, Sideways, Where Is the Friend's Home?), TV shows (e.g., Friends, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, New Girl), and books (e.g., The Lord of the Rings, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Kite Runner, How to Win Friends and Influence People).
Not only our favorite stories and movies but also our best memories often involve friendship. Think of your favorite memories and there is a good chance some involve enjoyable time you spent with good friends.
So why is friendship important?
Maybe because, as social creatures, we require relationships to satisfy our basic social needs: To feel we belong; to feel supported, cared for, and loved.
Not surprisingly, friendship is good for mental health. The psychological benefits of friendship have been demonstrated in numerous studies, showing true friendship is the key to happiness.
For example, one investigation found mattering to one’s best friends and other close friends mediated the relationship between friendship and happiness: Supportive and intimate interactions characteristic of friendship make us feel unique, special, and cared about.
Does this mean the only reason why we make friends is to enjoy the physical health benefits and mental health benefits of friendship (e.g., feel less stressed, become happier)? Or do we make friends for more practical reasons (e.g., networking)?
Why people make friends: Sample and methods
To answer the questions above, let us turn to the paper by Apostolou et al.
The first study consisted of in-depth interviews (using a sample of 20 Greek-speaking participants; average age of 37 years) and open-ended surveys (47 men and 61 women; average age of 24 years).
During the in-depth interviews, participants answered questions regarding their current friends and also discussed reasons that would motivate them to make friends.
The open-ended survey comprised one question: “Please indicate as many reasons as you could think that have led you in the past or could lead you in the future to make friends.” This study identified a list of 41 reasons for making friends.
Subsequently, a second study was conducted, with a sample of 1,316 Greek-speaking adult residents of Cyprus and Greece—640 men (average age, 29 years) and 676 women (average age, 25 years).
Participants rated the the above 41 reasons for making friends. Potential ratings varied from one to five (i.e. strongly disagree to strongly agree), in terms of the likelihood that the particular reason would motivate the participant to make friends.
Why people make friends: Results
As noted, the analysis of the data suggested 41 reasons people make friends. The most frequent reasons for making friends were:
- Having common interests
- Not wanting to feel lonely
- Being drawn to a person’s character
To categorize the reasons for making friends into broader factors, the researchers conducted a principal component analysis. Five factors emerged: Support (e.g., to have someone to rely on), Mating (e.g., to have a “wingman”), Desirable Traits in a friend (e.g., a sense of humor), Socializing (e.g., to not feel lonely), and Career (e.g., career advancement).
Below, you will find the full list of 41 reasons for forming friendships (divided into five categories):
For general support (1), support in a new environment (2), mutual support (3), sharing one’s joys and sorrows (4), and doing things together (5). And for having someone to go out with (6), talk to (7), discuss problems with (8), rely on (9), receive advice from (10), and get help from (11).
For the reason of being drawn to the friend’s appearance (12), to increase one’s social status (13), receive admiration (14), increase one’s chances of finding a romantic partner (15), to have a “wingman” (16), and to be able to approach one’s romantic interest (17)—including a person from the friend’s social circle (18), his or her friends (19), or relatives (20).
Having chemistry (21), shared opinions (22), shared interests (23), and the ability to share these interests (24); the friend’s character (25), ethos (26), positive characteristics (27), sense of humor (28), trustworthiness (29), and the friend being generally admirable (30).
To have contact with others (31), socialize (32), communicate (33), have companionship (34), meet new people (35), not feel lonely (36), expand one’s social circle (37), and feel accepted (38).
For cooperation at work (39), career-related goals (40), and career advancement (41).
The most significant friendship motive, by category, was Desirable Traits, followed by Socializing, Support, Career, and Mating.
There was a main effect for sex. Specifically, compared to men, women gave higher scores for the importance of Support, Desirable Traits, Socializing, and lower scores for Mating and Career.
Main effects of age were also observed (except for Mating). Younger individuals (compared to older) gave higher scores for Support, Socializing, and Career, but lower scores for Desirable Traits.
Further analysis of data suggested a second-order factor structure:
- True friendship (consisting of Support, Socializing, and Desirable Traits)
- Opportunistic friendship (consisting of Mating and Career)
The first factor was more critical than the second in motivating friendship. However, a third of the participants were motivated by both.
Let us end with a question: How applicable are the findings of research conducted with the residents of Cyprus/Greece to people of more individualistic and materialistic cultures (e.g., US)? In the US, forming friends may be less motivated by true friendship than opportunistic friendship. In other words, perhaps we are less inclined to make friends for emotional support and more for the purpose of finding a suitable mate or having greater success at work. Of course, only future research can answer whether this really is the case.