Hold Onto Your Friends

Hold Onto Your Friends

Hold Onto Your Friends

Studies have linked that having no friends, being friendless can lead to a range of adverse mental health outcomes, including low self-worth, social anxiety, depression and loneliness to name a few.

These outcomes can start in childhood and continue through adulthood. A young adult with no mutual friends can uniquely predict depression.

As such a serious and enduring problem, researchers collaborated from various universities including University of Sydney and University College London in order to try and better understand this problem:

It is crucial, not only for developmental theory but also from an applied clinical perspective, to discover what the early roots of mutual friendship are and to find out what can cause, perpetuate or protect against chronic friendlessness. These are aims of this study.

This Type of Parenting Improves the Health of Children

The researchers considered how theory of mind (ability to understand others beliefs, thoughts and intentions) correlated with friendlessness:

We chose social understanding of theory of mind (ToM) as a likely predictor of reciprocated friendship for both theoretical and empirical reasons.

ToM is the child’s awareness that people’s behaviour is shaped by their inner thoughts and feelings even when these are at odds with external reality

The researchers recruited 140 children aged 5-7 and measured several attributes such as verbal ability, theory of mind understanding, emotional understanding and prosocial behaviour.


As predicted the researchers found that theory of mind was significant in relation to friendships:


Theory of mind understanding at age 5 emerged as a strongly significant predictor of children’s having or not having a mutually reciprocated friendship both contemporaneously during initial friendship formation in kindergarten and also longitudinally from age 5 to age 7.

That is to say that those children who were best able to understand other children thoughts, beliefs and motives had more friends.

While replication may be needed results like these are clinically significant as they could help to diagnose and intervene by providing children targeted interventions to develop aspects of theory of mind.