Study shows mean friends are the best kind of friends – let us explain

Why you sometimes have to be cruel to be kind to your friends.

We all need our friends, and each of them enriches our lives in their own unique way. But a new study has found that perhaps the best kinds of friends are the ones who are straight up with us… so straight up it hurts.

We’re not talking about the ones who come round to your house and tell you your interior decorating sucks. That’s just mean.

We’re talking about the friends who will not shy away from putting you in your place if you’re out of line, and who help you to see things for what they are: If you don’t stop procrastinating you will miss that opportunity; build a bridge and ring your mother; you’ve been telling me for six years that you’re not happy in your marriage, are you ready to face that fact? That kind of friend.

They understand that even though you might not want to hear it they need to say it, for your own good. And your relationship is so sound you will take it from them.

So, the research… The research was published in Psychological Science and set out to prove that “people can be cruel to be kind”.

“That is, they may decide to make someone feel worse if this emotion is beneficial for that other person, even if this does not entail any personal benefit for them,” explains psychological scientist Belén López-Pérez, who conducted the research at the University of Plymouth.

In previous studies, the researchers had shown that people sometimes seek to worsen others’ mood for their own personal gain. This time López-Pérez and his colleagues wondered whether there might be circumstances under which people would try to worsen others’ mood for altruistic reasons.

“We identified several everyday examples where this might be the case – for instance, inducing fear of failure in a loved one who is procrastinating instead of studying for an exam,” López-Pérez says.

The study involved analysing the decisions made by 140 study participants as they played computer games, listened to music clips and read descriptions of games. They were all told they were playing with an anonymous player, Player A, who had recently gone through a break-up and was feeling upset, but half were asked to remain detached while the other half were asked to be empathetic.

The results showed that the participants who empathised with Player A focused on inducing specific emotions in him/her, depending on the ultimate goal of their computer game.

Reveals López-Pérez, “In line with previous research, our results have shown that people hold very specific expectations about the effects that certain emotions may have and about which emotions may be better for achieving different goals.

“These findings shed light on social dynamics, helping us to understand, for instance, why we sometimes may try to make our loved ones feel bad if we perceive this emotion to be useful to achieve a goal,” López-Pérez concludes.

So tough love does have its place, we guess it’s all in the delivery.

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