Jealously could be considered an unattractive trait, however, when it comes to friendships, the emotion can actually be important for maintaining bonds that mean a lot to us, a new study finds.
The research, conducted by Arizona State University, Oklahoma State University, and Hamilton College in the US, found feelings of jealousy were “sensitive to the value of the friendship” and actually motivated behaviours aimed at keeping and maintaining friends.
The research isn’t referring to that negative and destructive forms of jealousy, but rather those green feelings experienced when your best mate starts hanging out with a romantic partner or forming a close friendship with someone new.
“We wanted to understand how we keep friendships, and we found feelings of jealousy can act like a tool for maintaining friendships,” Jaimie Arona Krems, assistant professor of psychology at Oklahoma State University and co-author of the study, said of the findings.
The study looked at the emotions evoked by certain situations that commonly occur in friendships. When a friendship was threatened by another person, feelings of jealousy would arise at the fear one party could be replaced. And these emotions were heightened more so by new friends, rather than new romantic connections.
“The third party threats to a friendship were not just related to a best friend spending time away from us: It mattered whether the person they were spending time with could replace us as a friend,” said Douglas Kenrick, president’s professor of psychology at Arizona State University and co-author on the paper.
The ways threatened friends reacted to the notion that their pal could potentially replace them is what is perhaps most intriguing. According to the study, friends who experienced feelings of jealousy reacted by doing something called ‘friend guarding’, which may appear by the way of trying to monopolise their best friend’s time or manipulate their emotions (not so healthy) or by committing to being a better friend themselves.
“Getting jealous can sometimes be a signal that a friendship is threatened, and this signal can help us jump into action to invest in a friendship that we might have been neglecting,” said Athena Aktipis, assistant professor of psychology at Arizona State University and co-author on the paper.
Friendships are important for more reasons than one, and the benefits of having people in our lives who we can depend on, trust, and share experiences with extends far beyond those relating to our social calendars.
In fact, not having friends increases our risk of falling ill from viruses, which makes friendships all the more important right now, while the global COVID-19 pandemic continues.
“Friends aren’t just fun. They are an important resource, especially in our current situation with ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks. Friends give support during conflict, buffer against loneliness, and can even provide life sustaining resources when we need them,” said Arona Krems.