Genuine. Honest. Trustworthy. Supportive. Understanding. These are all adjectives we wish we could use to describe our friends and family. Let’s be honest: sometimes they fall short of our expectations. When we look for new friends, it can be hard to tell who will weather it out and be a good friend in the years to come.
One of the best ways to tell who will be a genuine friend is to be patient, tolerant, and demonstrate real friendship towards others. When we get to know our friends, we learn more about their strengths and weakness. Everyone will let us down at times. By getting to know the people around us, we learn what we can expect from others in the best of times and the worst of times.
How can you tell if the people around you enjoy being with you? Are they laughing at your jokes or being polite? How can you present yourself as someone that others want to get to know better? When friends are having a hard time, how can we support them? What kind of support do we expect them to give us? Read on to find out how science answers these questions.
Go with Your Gut Feeling
Smiling and laughing are both great ways to offer friendship to others. When they are genuine, people are genuinely having a good time together and feeling happy. When they are false, smilers and laughers are making an effort to be polite and share with the people around them. People may still want to know whether smiles and laughs are genuine. The best way to tell? Follow our gut. We can tell real laughter and smiles from the polite versions more than half of the time.
Spanish researchers performed an investigation in 2013 to see if participants could tell the difference between happy expressions—smiling mouth and eyes—and ambiguous expressions—smiling mouth and sad eyes. Manuel Calvo, published his findings under the title, When does the brain distinguish between genuine and ambiguous smiles? An ERP study in Brain and Cognition.
People misidentified the ambiguous expressions as happy only 40% of the time. More than half of the time, participants were able to identify genuine smiles. People who looked at the eyes first and then the mouth were more likely to recognize faces with mixed expressions, happy mouths, and sad eyes. When people looked at the mouths first, they were more likely to mistake the mixed expression for a happy expression. When we want to know if someone is feeling happy, we need to look at them in their eyes.
A similar investigation was performed at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2018 to determine if participants across different cultures could identify genuine laughter from produced laughter. The findings were published in The Perception of Spontaneous and Volitional Laughter Across 21 Societies in Psychological Science under the authorship of Gregory A. Bryant.
The psychologists recorded conversations between female friends to capture genuine, spontaneous laughter. Then they recorded women who were asked to laugh on cue. Researchers adjusted the recordings for volume, length, and quality. Afterward, these recordings were mixed and played for participants in the study. People generally identified genuine laughter more half the time. People from less industrial, more complex, socially organized societies identified real laughter correctly more than 60% of the time.
How can we tell when a laugh is genuine? Scientists say that our laughs are produced in two different ways. When laughter is polite, it sounds more like speech. When it is natural, it has a higher pitch and sounds nothing like speech.
Thanking those nearest us and receiving thanks is a compelling way to create lasting social bonds. It is essential to feel that others appreciate what we’ve done. It is also important to tell our friends how much we like their help.
In 2014 scientists at the University of New South Wales investigated the role of gratitude in human relationships. The hypothesis is that gratitude helps us find, bind, and mind our relationships. When we thank someone we don’t know for their help, it makes us more likely to become friends. By offering gratitude to a friend, we strengthen our relationship with that person. When we thank someone with whom we already have a close relationship, it maintains our closeness. The study performed in New South Wales focused only on the finding part.
College students were asked to advise high school seniors who were writing college entrance essays. Psychologists gave them handwritten notes, supposedly from the high school students. When these notes expressed gratitude for their help, the college students were more likely to include contact information and rate the high school student as having a warm personality.
While not surprising, these findings demonstrate that showing gratitude is a great way to win friends and keep them. Even without knowing it, we look to form relationships with thankful individuals.
Support in Hard Times
We expect the people around us to support us in good times and bad. If a person encourages you when you’re feeling down, that is a sign that that person cares for you. Of course, just being there is not always enough.
Researchers at Penn State found that providing validation to stressed-out friends and family is vital. They published their findings, entitled How the Comforting Process Fails in the Journal of Communication. Their study investigates how people felt when receiving different responses from friends. When responses validated or recognized, the upset person’s feelings and encouraged them to process these feelings, the subjects were more likely to feel positive. People felt best when friends used phrases like, “It’s understandable that you are stressed out since it’s something you really care about.”
Other responses made the subjects feel angry. An example of such a response is: “Nothing is worth getting so worked up about. Stop being so depressed.”
The take away from this research is that we should make sure that the people around us know how to validate our feelings when we’re feeling down. The best way to achieve this is to show them the same kind of sympathy that we expect.