A new study has revealed what we all wanted to know when we were teenagers: how to get more girlfriends.
The study, published in the Journal of Personality is the first to explore how empathy affects teenager friendship relationships. The conclusion, based on 1,970 Year 10 students in Queensland and New South Wales (average age of 15.7 years), Australia, is that girls are more drawn to boys who exhibit empathy. In contrast, empathetic girls didn’t attract more boys – on the contrary, girls with empathetic qualities “did not attract a greater number of opposite sex friends” at all. To make the results even more intriguing, the girls don’t really seem to mind this.
“The more friendship nominations a boy received from either boys or girls, the more they felt supported by their friends; the number of friendship nominations received by girls, in contrast, had no effect on their felt support by friends. Regardless of the quantity of friendship nominations, empathy was linked to more supportive friendships for both males and females,” said Professor Ciarrochi who led the study.
Of course, defining empathy is a key point for this type of study. In this case, researchers defined it as the capacity to comprehend the emotions of another person, which is generally the accepted definition.
The study shows what every teenager knows deep down inside – we don’t really understand them, and especially their friendships. Naturally, everyone knows friends are important, but the amount of research in this particular case is surprisingly thin. According to Professor Ciarrochi:
“Friends are essential to positive adolescent development. It’s well established that in addition to providing companionship, close friendships promote the development of interpersonal skills, learning, and growth. Having friends has also been linked with lower rates of depression and, to people feeling good about themselves,” he said.
“This research suggests it is critical to identify and teach young people the skills they need to develop supportive friendships. To that end, our study provides a contextual understanding of the role of empathy in selecting and maintaining friendships,” Professor Ciarrochi said.
Journal Reference: When Empathy Matters: The Role of Sex and Empathy in Close Friendships. DOI: 10.1111/jopy.12255