research

Co-rumination: Is it healthy for adolescents to rehash their boy problems?

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Are you a mom who worries because your teenage daughter seems to be incessantly texting or emailing her best friends about her romantic problems? Your worries may be founded.

When adolescent girlfriends rehash the same problems together over and over, they increase their risk of depression and social anxiety. In a study focused on seventh and eighth-graders, Dr. Joanne Davila and Lisa Starr, MA, psychologists at Stony Brook University, studied the effects of co-rumination, first defined by Dr. Amanda Rose (2002) as excessive discussion of problems within friendships---including repeated conversations, conjecture about causes, and heightened focus on negative emotions.

“The abundance of communication technology available to teens today creates an enabling environment for co-rumination,” said investigator Starr in a press release. “Texting, instant messaging, and social networking make it very easy for adolescents to become even more anxious which can lead to depression.”

Conversely, if such discussions are focused on solving problems rather than ruminating about them, these discussions can generate positive solutions and contribute to emotional well-being. The new research findings were published in the February issue of the Journal of Adolescence.

This study builds upon research (discussed in a previous blog post) by Amanda Rose and colleagues at the University of Missouri-Columbia that also challenged the conventional wisdom: that it’s always good for adolescent girls to get problems “off their chest” by talking about them to close friends. Taken together both of these studies suggest that parents need to be alert to too much of a good thing. Hopefully, future studies will examine the effects of co-rumination among other age groups.

Source: Press Release, January 27, 2009, Excessive Discussion of Problems Between Adolescent Friends May Lead To Depression and Anxiety  

 

Nostalgia: One way of handling a friendship drought?

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A reader of my blog is living overseas with several young children and is married to a man who routinely works long hours. Another woman I know is single; she recently moved to a new town to begin a demanding job that entails frequent travel. My own elderly mother has become frail with fewer and fewer opportunities to get out and mingle with her peers. What do these three women-at different stages of life-have in common? For various reasons, each is in the midst of a friendship drought.


There are times when, for various situational reasons, we simply don't have enough friends-or enough of the right kind of friends. We feel isolated and alone. Other times, people experience persistent friendship deficits because they are very shy, lack social skills, or just have a hard time befriending others. A new study published in Psychological Science (November 2008) suggests one instinctive antidote to feelings of loneliness and isolation: nostalgia.


In four different studies, psychologists at the University of Southampton and Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangshou, China looked at people from various walks of life, including schoolchildren, college students, and factory workers. They found that lonely people used nostalgia as a coping mechanism, drawing upon their sentimental memories of the past. The more lonely people were, the more nostalgic they tended to become as a way of increasing their self-perceived feeling of social support.

 

"Our findings show that nostalgia is a psychological resource that protects and fosters mental health," says Dr. Tim Wildschut of the University of Southampton. "It strengthens feelings of social connectedness and belongingness, partially improving the harmful repercussions of loneliness. The past, when appropriately harnessed, can strengthen psychological resistance to the vicissitudes of life."


One implication of these research findings: If your current situation doesn't lend itself to making new friends or connecting with the ones you already have, take a brief trip down memory lane and re-live the peaks of your past friendships.

 

My thoughts: While this coping mechanism might temporarily help you get over a friendship drought, the real fix is to find ways to more fully integrate friendship into the fiber of your life. The isolated mom may need to call upon a babysitter, the nomadic woman may need to use her cell phone more, and my elderly mother may need to connect with other women her age at a senior center.

 

Source: Press Release, University of Southampton, November 18, 2008, Nostalgic thoughts of happier times can help overcome loneliness.

 

Friendship Counts

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When I periodically check out the most popular searches on this blog (yes, I am addicted to Google Analytics), many of them have to do with numbers.

Readers are always interested in how the numbers of their friendships stack up to those of others. There isn't too much new in the number world. And without a real friendship census, counting numbers of friends still remains a very imprecise 'science' because of the wide variability among the groups researchers study, the techniques they use, and the questions they ask.

[In case you can't see the small print: The Friendship Pyramid depicted above has three slices. At the apex are best friends, than close friends in the middle, and casual ones at the base. Generally, women tend to have more friends of that type as they go from top to bottom.]

Friendship numerology: More art than science

Some of the soft conclusions we can draw about numbers from friendship research include:

  • People have only a small circle of best friends relative to close ones and casual ones (as illustrated in the pyramid).
  • While there is wide variability, most women have between 2 and 5 very close or best friends
  • As a group, women tend to favor a smaller, more intimate circle of friends than men.
  • An upper limit of the number of friends someone can maintain at once is called "Dunbar's number." British anthropologist Professor Robin Dunbar has conducted research that concludes that humans are functionally hard-wired to handle a maximum of 150 friends at a time.
  • An MSN Messenger study conducted in the UK, still one of the most comprehensive studies of the friendship patterns, surveyed 10,000 people, both male and female. The study found that Brits collect an average of 196 friends over a lifetime. They only keep one out of 12 of them.
  • Ironically, the same survey reported that we tend to see social friends (AKA casual ones) more often than close ones. For example, the survey ound that women see their social friends every 3.5 days while they see their close friends only six times a year.

If you find this interesting, you may want to read some of my 'numerous' older posts related to numbers.

How many friends does it take?

When it comes to friendship who's counting?

Online friending and defriending patterns

Friends in the digital playground

 

 

Generation Y Moms: Log on to connect to other moms

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Gen Y moms (born between 1982 and 1995), AKA  babies of baby boomers) are pushing the digital envelope. Compared to Gen X moms before them, they are more likely to use the internet to form bonds with one another to hone their parenting skills. A research brief on MediaPost draws distinctions between the way the two groups use a popular parenting site, Parenting.com.

Generation X women (born between 1965-1982, AKA post-baby boomers) tend to rely on the internet for more practical applications, like shopping and uploading pictures---as compared to Generation Y women, who are more likely to use technology to connect with other moms---by texting, sharing photos and videos, and chatting as members of online communities.

According to the report: “It…reveals a trend among the younger Gen Y moms of relying on the common experience of members of their cohort to help them navigate their journey through parenthood.”

As a baby boomer, the telephone was the tool I used to connect. I would call my one-and-only best friend and next-door neighbor Judy, who had given birth a few years before me, to find out all the tricks she knew and I was yet to learn as a young mother. Now young moms can learn from groups of their peers, 24/7, as long as the baby takes naps and sleeps through the night. But if that were the case, why would they need parenting advice? :-) 
 

Just Friends?

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In a recent post on her Psychology Today blog, research psychologist Dr. Bella DePaulo, author of Singled Out, raises the issue of what it means to be “just friends.”

Unlike marriage (and same-sex unions in some States), friends have no legal ties to one another. Unlike siblings, they have no blood ties. Yet one of the most unique and defining characteristics of a friendship is that it is a totally voluntary relationship that exists simply because two people “just” want to be friends.

Ironically: “Friends are marginalized as ‘just’ friends,” writes DePaulo. “Now that Americans spend more years of their adult lives single than married, friendship is more important than it used to be,” she adds. “As family size decreases, so, too, do options for family care in old age or any other age - fewer people have siblings or adult children to care for them (or if they do, those family members may live many miles away). Again, it is friends who come to the rescue.”

Whether single or married, it is often difficult for women to strike the right balance between their friendships, family ties, careers, and needs for time alone. Yet DePaulo’s remarks remind us that---in sickness and in health, for better or for worse---it’s always a treasure to be surrounded by strong, caring female friendships.

 

The Friendship Olympics: Which sex gets the gold?

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In the course of my own research on female friendships, I serendipitously found the perfect mentor to teach me about male friendships and the differences between the two: Geoffrey Greif, DSW, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and author of the new book, Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships (Oxford University Press, 2008).

Dr. Greif studied 386 men and 122 women, whom he interviewed in depth about their definitions of friendship, how they made friends, how they maintained them, and whether they had ever lost friends. These questions and answers represent just a few of the lessons he learned and that he shares in greater detail in his excellent book:

Q: How do male and female friendships differ from one another?

Through listening to men and women and studying what they tell us about friendships, certain tenets about friendship can be cautiously put forth. We must be careful though about making sweeping generalizations about women’s friendships, just as we must be careful about making generalizations about men’s. Great diversity exists in the friendships of both genders---but:

  • Women are more apt to say they have enough friends and that friends are important; they are less apt to say they didn’t have time for friends. Although the majority (60%) of men say they have enough friends, 40% do not have enough or are unsure, a greater number than women. It may be that some men are pulled by work and cannot find the time to balance friends, work, and family. Or, it could be as we have heard from some men: that they have a hard time connecting with other men in a way that is satisfying to them on a friendship level. They may feel they do not have enough must friends. (Grief uses four categories to describe friendships: must, trust, rust and just).

  • Women are more apt to help each other than are men, by being supportive, encouraging, and “being there.” Men, on the other hand, are more apt to give their friends advice and offer their perspectives. Both mentioned the importance of listening and talking. Men tend to be fixers, and see getting something concrete accomplished as a way of helping, whereas women are more comfortable with emotional support, which sometimes involves listening without giving specific advice.

  • When with friends, women spend more time shopping, going out to dine with them and going to the movies, as well as staying home with friends to cook or watch movies. Communication, as part of the relationship, is frequent for both women and men. Men, who gave fewer distinct responses to this question, are much more apt to be involved in sports-related activities, either as a participant or viewer.

  • To make friends, women may reach out to others a bit more than men, and they are less concerned with finding commonalities as a basis for friendships. Men mention sports more often than women as a basis for making friends. To feel comfortable, men may be slightly more apt to need a socially acceptable arena for having a friendship begin, like a similar hobby or sports. This would be a shoulder-to-shoulder approach to friendships, as opposed to women perhaps feeling slightly more comfortable making friends without a specific activity or commonality being at the center of the friendship.

  • To maintain a friendship, women put a much greater value on frequent contact than men. Men often mention being able to pick up again with a friend after little contact, whereas women place a greater value on staying in touch. Women appear to need more communication in general than men. Emotional connection is important to them, and it is often manifested by staying in frequent contact.
  • Women are more apt to lose friends and more apt to try to get them back than are men. We have learned already that men are often less concerned about slights than women and so they may be slightly less apt to lose a friend because of someone’s behavior.

Q: How are male and female friendships similar?

  • The words used to define friendships are similar. Being understood, trust, dependability, and loyalty are key features of friendships for both genders.
  • The percentage of people who said they had a friend of the opposite sex is similar.
  • The importance of friends, although slightly higher for women, is very high for both men and women.
  • Women and men both make friends through their spouses and significant others.
  • Women’s friendships can also be effectively grouped using the must, trust, just, and rust categories. These categories of friendships are discussed in depth in the book and help us understand our relationships with friends.

Q: What can men learn from female friendships?

Men can learn that physical and emotional expressiveness can exist in a friendship without it meaning that a man is gay. Women are much less concerned about this level of expressiveness than are men who often pull back from other men. Men are socialized to compete with and not pursue other men as friends. Unless it is sports, music, or war, emulating men, having a “crush” on them, and being physically close, is not universally acceptable.

Q: What can women learn from female friendships?

Men tend to have less complicated friendships than women. Some women, when directly asked, said they wished their relationships were more upfront and less emotionally demanding. They like the fact that men are able to resolve differences more quickly and move on.

“Cultural relevance is key,” cautions Dr. Greif. “Different sub-groups in America view friendships, women’s and men’s roles, and community connectiveness in vastly divergent ways. Anything that can be learned from men or women must be understood within such a context.”

In your own experience, which friendships do you think are stronger or more meaningful, male or female? Who takes the gold and who takes the silver?

 

 

 

February 29, 2008 - Make Time for Friends Day

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I hereby proclaim February 29th, 2008 as the first Make Time for Friends Day. There are no commercial aspects to the day that you need to worry about. You don’t have to buy cards, send gifts or spend money. You have received the gift of extra time and are free to use it wisely. Let me suggest how:

At various times in our lives, we have more or less time and need for our female friends. Women who are single, divorced, widowed, or retired tend to have more discretionary time than women who are involved in marriage, child-rearing or heavily invested in their careers. Of course, most research looks at groups and talks about averages rather than individuals so these trends certainly don’t apply to every woman. There are many women who are married, raising their brood, or working---who are wise enough to make female friendships a priority in their lives.

However, looking at the trends, you might easily ask: How will women have any friends when they get divorced, become widowed, or decide to retire, if they don’t make efforts to maintain those friendships beforehand? You are absolutely correct in posing that question because research suggests that single women who forgo marriage are more likely to retain their close friendships over the long haul. In a recent post on her blog on the The Huffington Post, social psychologist Bella DePaulo and author of Singled Out states that based on scientific research on loneliness in later life, “…No group is likely to be less lonely in their senior years than women who have always been single.”

I think I have one answer to reconcile the gap for those at-risk: This year, 2008, is a leap or intercalary year. That means that an extra day has been added to the calendar, Friday the 29th, to synchronize the calendar year with the solar year.

This extra day is a perfect time for Make Time for Friends Day. All you very busy multi-tasking women (me among them), take out your Blackberry, Palm, or conventional paper daybook or calendar and give yourself that extra day, February 29th, to catch up with one or more female friends---old or new--- who you’ve not had time to be with.

Take the leap and do it now! Think about the significance of friendships to your well-being, physical, emotional, and spiritual---and give yourself the gift of time with friends. My suspicion is that you may decide that one day every four years isn’t enough---and that it may become a habit.

 

Friends: Just what the doctor (surgeon) ordered

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Need another reason to nurture your friendships? Every year, about 15 million Americans undergo surgical procedures. Whenever anyone goes under the knife, even for an elective procedure, it is likely to be a time of great stress.

Whether the surgery is for breast cancer, an ovarian cyst or a cosmetic procedure, female friendships can help ease an otherwise difficult journey. Friends can provide physician referrals, listen when you need another set of eyes and ears to interview a doctor, and provide a potent dose of caring and cheer at your bedside. A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons confirms that a strong network of family and friends can even ease postoperative pain and anxiety---and speed recuperation.

“Strong social connectedness can have a tremendous impact on patient recovery by helping blunt the effect of stress caused by postoperative pain, as well as ease concerns about health, finances and separation from family members,” says Allison R. Mitchinson, MPH, who works with the Ann Arbor (MI) Healthcare System and was one of the co-authors of the study.

The researchers studied more than 600 patients undergoing major thoracic or abdominal operations at two Veterans Affairs’ medical centers. Prior to surgery, the patients responded to a questionnaire that elicited the numbers and frequency of their social contacts. Patients with smaller social networks reported significantly higher preoperative pain intensity, unpleasantness, and anxiety.

Like exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet, maintaining meaningful friendships is one of the things we can all do to improve health, prevent disease and extend life,

 

People who need people

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What do lonely people do when they need friends but have none? According to new research, they tend to anthropomorphize: They attribute human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena.

“When people lack a sense of connection with other people, they are more likely to see their pets, gadgets or gods as human-like,” says psychologist Nicholas Epley, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, in a press release.

The loneliness of having too few friends or being totally bereft of friends can be excruciatingly painful. In fact, Epley suggests that it can even be deadly. “It’s actually a greater risk for morbidity or mortality than cigarette smoking is. Being lonely is a bad thing for you,” he says.

The researchers suggest that humanizing the inhuman may confer some of the same benefits that people derive from friends and other social relationships. The bottom Line: If you find yourself talking to your cat, you may want to think about whether you have a friendship deficit that needs to be addressed.

 

The study will appear in the February issue of Psychological Science. Also contributing to the research were Scott Akalis of Harvard University and the University of Chicago’s Adam Waytz and John Cacioppo.

 

Preteen Worries: My family, my friends and me

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Preteens tend to worry. Why? As they’re simultaneously growing into awkward new bodies and tackling the social challenges of middle school, they’re also victims of the emotional roller coaster created by their fluctuating hormones. With these stressors, it’s a difficult time for kids well as their parents.

Preteens tend to be tight-lipped---preferring to share secrets with their friends over their parents---so it’s natural for moms, dads and teachers to wonder what they worry about. A new KidsHealth KidsPoll was designed to provide some answers. The January 2008 poll surveyed 1,154 kids between the ages of 9 and 13, looking at how much they worry and what they worry about.

By far, the largest proportion (86 per cent) worry “almost all the time” or “a lot” about someone they love. They also worry about tests and grades, the future, their appearance, and making mistakes---in that order. But 1 out of 4 worry about their friends “almost all the time” and a third of them worry about friends “a lot.” In fact, friendships ranked among the top 8 of 20 pre-teen worries.

One implication: Moms need to talk to their daughters about female friendships and share their wisdom and experience about the fragility of these relationships. Particularly during these pre-teen years, we need to help cushion the blow when our daughters are excluded from a clique at school or camp, or when they are inevitably rejected by one of their Besties.

 

The poll was conducted by KidsHealth.org, a web portal that provides health information for children.

 
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