The Importance of Friendship

Within our education system most of the focus on social environments is geared toward highly salient issues with legal implications — things like bullying and violence. What often gets overlooked is a much less serious but much more common situation — the shy kid with no friends who spends all day unhappy and uninterested.

As Stanford’s Geoffrey Cohen and Gregory Walton discovered, having even a tenuous social connection can make a big difference.

Four experiments examined the effect on achievement motivation of mere belonging, a minimal
social connection to another person or group in a performance domain. Mere belonging was
expected to increase motivation by creating socially-shared goals around a performance task.
Participants were led to believe that an endeavor provided opportunities for positive social
interactions (Experiment 1), that they shared a birthday with a student majoring in an academic
field (Experiment 2), that they belonged to a minimal group arbitrarily identified with a
performance domain (Experiment 3), or that they had task-irrelevant preferences similar to a peer
who pursued a series of goals (Experiment 4). Relative to control conditions that held constant
other sources of motivation, each social-link manipulation raised motivation, including
persistence on domain-relevant tasks (Experiments 1-3) and the accessibility of relevant goals
(Experiment 4). The results suggest that even minimal cues of social connectedness affect
important aspects of self.

One takeaway from the study is the importance of educational choices for students, not just between schools but within schools. Obviously if there are multiple public or charter schools within a given area, students will be more likely to end up in a better social situation, but more electives or internship-type opportunities within a school are also likely to give kids a better chance to feel as though they belong.

Schools should also take note of how important it is to create an environment where kids feel like they are part of something tangible. There’s a fine line between activities that can build real camaraderie and bullshit exercises that make kids lose respect for the education system, but perhaps schools should invest more time figuring out where the line is and designing activities that fall on the right side of it.

Walton, G., Cohen, G., Cwir, D., & Spencer, S. (2012). Mere belonging: The power of social connections. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102 (3), 513-532 DOI: 10.1037/a0025731


One Response to The Importance of Friendship

  1. Stephanie says:

    Thanks for picking up on this interesting research. It would be more useful, however, if you posted a link to the Open Access version of this article [] rather than the link to a paywall.

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