Male & female friendships maintained by different psychological dynamics, study finds

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EXCERPT: . . . “Despite all the similarities, the two sexes do live in rather different social worlds,” Dunbar told PsyPost. “They have different interests, different foci and different social styles. One is not better than the other — they are just different ways of achieving the same long-term goal. But it does mean that both sexes need to be aware of that and make the appropriate allowances.”

The dynamics of male and female friendships were quite different. Women’s friendships were most intimate when they and their best friends were most similar in terms of things that seemed to affect the quality of the relationship itself, such as education, humor, and happiness. Men’s friendships were most intimate when they and their best friends were most similar in ways that affect involvement in social activities, such as finances, outgoingness, and social connection.

Dunbar and his colleagues noted that these differences could reflect the fact that women prefer to socialize one-on-one while men prefer to socialize in groups. Notably, same-sex best friendships were much more common (78% among male respondents and 85% among female respondents) than opposite-sex best friendships.

The findings add to the existing evidence that men and women have a fairly different outlook on friendship. While both male and female respondents were equally likely to have a romantic partner, more women (98%) reported having a best friend than did men (85%). Men were also more likely to have a romantic partner but no best friend compared to women. The researchers say these findings support previous evidence that men have social circles that tend to include a collection of casual friendships, whereas women tend to have smaller social circles that include one or two more intimate relationships.

“These differences appear very early in life (long before serious influences of socialization have a lasting effect) and they are also present in monkeys and apes. That said, the differences are not absolutes: as with all traits, physical and psychological, they lie on a continuum, and the two sexes overlap,” Dunbar said.

“[...] we want to understand their origins. While it is always the case that behavior can be tweaked in one direction or another during socialization, what we don’t really know is which components can be adjusted in this way and which not, or by how much. The one thing we should never do is presume on ideological grounds that we know.” (MORE - details)

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