The Science Behind Friendships

Happy International Friendship Day!

International Day of Friendships first began in 2011 by the UN General Assembly with the hope that friendships between countries, people and cultures could encourage peace efforts.

And this got us wondering, how does having friends influence the brain?

As human beings, we are social creatures, which means we need and often yearn for social interactions with others. Robin Dunbar, a professor of anthropology at Oxford University, developed a theory in the late ’90s which we now know as “Dunbar’s Number”. The theory suggests we have a cognitive limit to the number of people we can form and maintain stable social relationships with, and that number is 150. Any more than this and according to Dunbar, we won’t be able to keep up those connections for very long.

Over the years, Dunbar’s expanded on this theory to take into account emotional closeness. Based on information from the MIT Technology Review, this brought Dunbar to the idea of layers known as “Dunbar layers” and, this is how it goes:

So in total, we have up to 150 contacts. Dunbar divides this up into layers per “strength of emotional ties”:

  • We have up to five people in the closest layer
  • the next layer contains 10 more
  • the one after that has 35
  • and the last one has another 100 people, these are the people you are least close to.

When it comes to friendships, we’re not talking about your Facebook friends or Linkedin connections. We’re talking about the people you tell you woes to, people you’d invite out for a drink and people you’d spare a kidney for (maybe).

The Neuroscience of Friendship

It’s important to note here that we don’t yet know everything there is to know about the brain, science is forever expanding, and as we conduct more experiments and studies – the more we know.

With this in mind, what we do know about friendships and the human brain suggests friendship is essential to us and, there are a few reasons for this. Based on research by Romero et al., Johnson and Dunbar, Machin and Dunbar, and Holt-Lunstad et al., we found the following science gold nuggets:

  • Friendships can increase life expectancy, Holt- Lunstad et al. ‘s research shows a “50% increased likelihood of survival for participants with stronger social relationships.”
  • Friends can Help to create a feeling of purpose as you have a responsibility towards a person or group of people, according to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, this means you’re more likely to look after yourself better and take fewer risks.
  • Peaceful associations and social connections release “feel-good” chemicals in the brain, Romero et al. note oxytocin is present in the brain’s of mammals and contributes to “specific social structures.”
  • Machin and Dunbar found in their 2011 study the role of the endogenous opioid system (this system controls pain, rewards and addictive behaviours) in positive social relationships. This helps to explain our emotional attachment to our friends and suggests friends help us to feel less stressed and have a positive impact on us.
  • It’s not just social connections; physical touch is pretty crucial to us as well. Dunbar notes in his study published earlier this year that ” feeling lonely is an alarm against survival risks associated with social isolation “, physical contact has been shown to have “beneficial effects on loneliness” and has “positive physiological effects.”

Saying Thank You

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Friendships have an incredibly positive effect on our brains; however, they also provide us with fun, laughter, support and influence our lives and behaviours. Why not say a special thank you to your friends today and send them a gift or say thanks. You know, since they do so much for us and our brains.

Here are our top 3 ways you can say thanks:

  1. Send them some doughnuts

Now we’re in London, so we have the absolute pleasure of being able to order from Doughnut time and Crosstown doughnuts in a matter of moments and have some mouth-watering doughnuts delivered to our best friends doorstep.

  1. Treat them to their favourite restaurant

Another way you can say thanks is to take your friend out for a meal. Or even better, impress them with your culinary skills and make them dinner at home.

  1. The Gift of Peak

Ensure your friend’s cognition stays sharp with the gift of Peak Pro. With this, they will get unlimited access to our entire catalogue of games, tailored workouts and exciting insights into how their brain’s evolving.

To recap, friends, help us live longer, feel better, stop us from feeling lonely and support us through life. Who’d have known that friendships would be so valuable to us as human beings? Often we take things for granted when they’re in front of us the whole time.

So take some time today and say thank you to your buddy.

Since you’re here… Why not take a look at some of our recent posts:

  • What better way to celebrate this season of spookiness from the comfort of your own home with a good spooky book or two. The post Top 7 Scary Books You’ve Never Read appeared first on Peak.
  • Have you ever wondered why we love to be scared? Why, despite the spine chilling fear, we continue to watch horror films? The post Why We Love To Be Scared appeared first on Peak.
  • Ever wondered how the food you eat impacts your brain? We spoke to nutritionist Milena Kaler on all things food and brain related. The post The Best Foods For Brainpower: Q&A With A Nutritionist appeared first on Peak.
  • It seems what we eat has become a huge topic of discussion and interest. So we’ve taken it back to basics and spoken to a registered Dietitian. The post Back To Basics: Q&A With A Dietitian appeared first on Peak.
  • Motivation comes easily with new projects, jobs and aims. But as time goes on, you may start to find your motivation dwindling… The post Lost Your Motivation? Here are 3 Tips To Increase Your Productivity appeared first on Peak.

Sources Cited:

Sajal Azam

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