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The Presence of a Best Friend Buffers the Effects of Negative Experiences

May 22, 2013

In a study examining the protective effects of friendships, Ryan E. Adams, Jonathan Bruce Santo, and William M. Bukowski determined that “…having a best friend present during an experience buffered the effect of the negativity of the experience on both mechanisms. When a best friend was not present, there was an increase in cortisol and a decrease in GSW as the negativity of the experience increased. When a best friend was present, there was less change in cortisol and GSW due to the negativity of the experience.” (p.1790)

Adams,  Santo, and Bukowski explain: “Various studies have shown that friendships have the potential to serve as protection against later adjustment difficulties that result from negative experiences (Adams & Bukowski, 2007; Hodges, Boivin, Vitaro, & Bukowski, 1999; Prinstein, Boergers, & Vernberg, 2001), but little is known about how friendships might provide this protection in a more proximal manner to the actual negative event. The goal of the current study was to examine how the presence of a best friend might serve as protection against the effect of negative experiences that happen over the course of multiple school days on global self-worth (GSW) and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis (HPA axis), outcomes that were measured relatively proximal to the event.” (p.1786)

“The idea that friendships might have the ability to block the effects of negative experiences is not a new one. Harry Stack Sullivan (1953) theorized that friends, or as he called them “chumships,” could negate the effects of negative experiences, such as poor parenting. In general, this theory suggests that best friends help adolescents interpret negative experiences especially in terms of how the experience might relate back to the adolescent and the adolescent’s self-concept in the context of the negative experience. In addition, the theory suggests that late childhood/early adolescence, the developmental period examined in the current study, is a particularly important period in this respect because this is when individuals are often confronted with understanding new experiences  without their parents. The general idea is that there are differential outcomes for the same negative experiences depending on the relationship context in which the negative experience occurs.” (p.1786)

“Although there is evidence for the protective effects of friendships against the later outcomes of negative experiences, there is little understanding of how friendships might provide this protection more proximally to the negative event. The current study [-p.1787] attempted to understand the protective effects of friendships in the face of negative events by examining GSW and the HPA axis. In this respect, the current study did not focus on the long-term outcomes of negative events, such as depressive symptoms and anxiety, but rather on intermediary factors that are affected by the event more proximally in terms of time and, in turn, that have also been shown to mediate the effects of negative experiences on later outcomes.” (pp.1786-1787)

“…previous research has often focused on the buffering effects of having or not having a friend, but the current findings suggest that some of the buffering effects of having a friend might not be as powerful if the friend is not present when bad things happen, as would be the case if the friend does not go to the same school or is in a different classroom.
In moving forward toward the goal of understanding the role of friendships as protection, it is important for future studies to examine more details of the negative experiences than could be examined in the current study. For instance, it will be important not only to account for the source of the negativity (e.g., it could be that the friend is the source of the negativity of the interaction) but also to know exactly what it is that friends might be doing to provide protection (e.g., physical protection, keeping the victim from internalizing the event, emotional support).” (p.1790)

Ref: Ryan E. Adams, Jonathan Bruce Santo, and William M. Bukowski (2011) The Presence of a Best Friend Buffers the Effects of Negative Experiences [Brief Report] Developmental Psychology 47(6), 1786–1791

Abstract: “The goal of the current study was to examine how the presence of a best friend might serve as protection against the effect of negative experiences on global self-worth and the hypothalamic-pituitaryadrenocortical axis (HPA axis). A total of 103 English-speaking male (n  55) and female (n  48) participants from Grade 5 (M  10.27 years) and Grade 6 (M  11.30 years) completed booklets about their experiences that occurred 20 min previously and how they felt about themselves at the moment, and they provided saliva multiple times per day over the course of 4 consecutive days. Having a best friend present during an experience significantly buffered the effect of the negativity of the experience on cortisol and global self-worth. When a best friend was not present, there was a significant increase in cortisol and a significant decrease in global self-worth as the negativity of the experience increased. When a best friend was present, there was less change in cortisol and global self-worth due to the negativity of the experience.”

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