Research has consistently shown having friends is associated with good health and well-being, but a recent study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships shows it can take many hours together to foster a close friendship.
The loneliness epidemic
Loneliness is a growing public health problem in the United States. Studies have found a link between loneliness and heart disease, and a 2015 analysis of 70 studies connected loneliness to a 26% increase in mortality risk.
But even though people's social media networks are growing these days, loneliness remains a scourge. One survey found the number of Americans who said they lacked close friends has nearly tripled in recent decades.
That contrast prompted Jeffrey Hall, associate professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas (KU), to take a closer look at how friendships are formed.
For the study, Hall, who has spent a decade researching friendships, surveyed 355 adults who had recently moved and were looking to make new friends. The participants were asked to think of someone they had met after moving, how much time they spent together, and the types of activities they did together. He then asked the participants to rate their relationship with the person in one of four levels:
- Casual friend;
- Friend; and
- Close friend.
In a separate study, Hall surveyed 112 KU students who had recently moved to the area. He asked them to identify two people they had met since starting school and followed up with survey participants four and seven weeks later.
Ultimately, Hall found that it takes:
- 40-60 hours to form a casual friendship;
- 80-100 hours to form a friendship; and
- More than 200 hours to form a close friendship.
But Hall said that spending time together isn't enough, on its own, to foster a friendship. For instance, he said time spent at school or work didn't help foster a friendship. To form the strongest friendships, people had to spend time together outside of their meeting place.
Hall found that time spent talking also didn't necessarily bring people closer together: While meaningful talk did generate closeness, Hall found that small talk actually made people feel less close over time.
So how do you make friends?
For those looking to make new friends, Hall has three key recommendations:
- Get out and mingle: Seek out people who share your interests, and spend time with them in places they are likely to gather;
- Switch up the context: Once you've met a new friend, invite them to hang out in a new environment. "If you work together, go to lunch or out for a drink," Hall suggests. "These things signal to people that you are interested in being friends with them"; and
- Make friends a priority: It's important to actually spend time with someone to allow a friendship to develop.
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