What holds people together in addition to shared experiences

RelationshipsWhat quality Friendship matters

Do we have a lot in common with good friends? Not necessarily. Psychologists say: Similar interests and personality traits only play a minor role. For example, spatial proximity is often much more important. Our reporter Johannes Döbbelt has found five factors that determine how we make friends.

We've only known some friends for a few months, others since kindergarten. But how do we actually get to these people who are so close to us? Do we choose them very specifically - or is it all a coincidence in the end? Sociologists and psychologists and philosophers have long been trying to find out why we choose which friends - and they came across some amazing insights.

"I got to know a lot of friends through a common roommate, with whom I am no longer friends myself."
Answer to a street poll

Factor 1: spatial proximity

Anyone who happens to be near us is actually more likely to become our friend. This is shown by a study by the University of Mainz. A psychology professor assigned new students to the first lecture a place in the lecture hall - randomly. It was found that the seating arrangement in this one event influenced future friendships between fellow students: a year later, students who had sat next to each other were more friends with each other than those who had sat far apart.

Factor 2: frequency of contact

The more often we see a person, the more sympathetic they become to us and then maybe also to our friend - provided we don't find them totally stupid and annoying from the outset. Psychologists call this the "mere exposure effect": our brain can more easily process what we know well and rewards us for it. That is why we tend to find things or people familiar to us likeable.

"There is no such thing as a disinterested friendship."

Factor 3: self-interest

Sounds completely unromantic, of course, but studies have shown that we also choose our friends based on what we promise ourselves from them. It's about emotional needs, such as: How well can someone make me laugh or comfort me when I feel bad? But also about pragmatic questions such as: Who can help me with studying at university? The philosopher Björn Vedder says that there is no friendship in which self-interest does not also play a role.

Factor 4: felt similarities

Sure, you should somehow be on the same wavelength, have similar attitudes or interests. But friendship research shows that close friends are often not that much alike. Scientists at the Humboldt University in Berlin have investigated this. Result: It does not matter to friendship whether someone is actually similar to us, it is enough that we perceive our friend as similar. Also, differences can make a friendship particularly interesting.

Factor 5: recognition

Of course, we don't just want friends we think are great, but also friends who think we are great - and show us that too. We are pursuing two different strategies, says Björn Vedder. On the one hand, we want the attention of many people. And at the same time we want attention from a few people, but also a more intensive relationship. "And both strategies have to work together, one of them is never enough," says the philosopher.

So we want a lot of attention and affection from a few. And at least a little attention from a lot of people. For the first there are really good friends, and for the second there are still those on Facebook.

More on the subject:

  • The glue for friendships: interests and secrets | There has been a lively discussion about what friendship is and what it should be since ancient times. In the lecture hall, the philosopher Björn Vedder and the sociologist Janosch Schobin talk about friendship then and now.
  • Love is a choice! | Love is not as light as a feather as it comes across in many pop songs. Love is work, and in a partnership we have to want to love, says couple therapist Holger Kuntze.
  • How a cry for help turned into a friendship | When Claudia Klütsch wants to wash her husband's new shirt, a note flutters at her feet: a call for help from a textile factory worker in Bangladesh. It is the beginning of an extraordinary friendship.