Half of your friends probably don’t think of you as a friend — but don’t be sad

Cari Romm writes: Here’s a fun exercise: Take a minute and count up all your friends. Not just the close ones, or the ones you’ve seen recently — I mean every single person on this Earth that you consider a pal.

Got a number in your mind? Good. Now cut it in half.

Okay, yes, “fun” may have been a bit of a reach there. But this new, smaller number may actually be more accurate. As it turns out, we can be pretty terrible at knowing who our friends are: In what may be among the saddest pieces of social-psychology research published in quite some time, a study in the journal PLoS One recently made the case that as many as half the people we consider our friends don’t feel the same way. [Continue reading…]

Let’s suspend any questions about the validity of this research finding (even though a lot of scientific papers these days do seem more geared towards grabbing social media attention than the advance of knowledge) and let’s consider instead whether this should indeed be a cause of sadness.

If it turns out that most of us have half as many friends as we imagine, that sounds like a strong reason for an unwelcome boost in self-doubt and insecurity.

If our friends are the people we trust, does this mean that a lot of our trust is misplaced?

Maybe — but that’s not as bad as it sounds.

Trust is a gamble. If we actually had no doubt and could reliably know who was a friend and who was not, there would be no need for trust.

Trust is a relationship with the unknown, and since it’s inevitably going to extend too far or not far enough, it seems that human beings as social creatures are built to trust more rather than less.

So this proclivity to imagine our net of friendships extends further than it really does, is probably less a reason for sadness than reason to be glad that for most people, trust is stronger than fear.

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