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FAU Study Answers Crucial Question: Why Do Adolescent Friendships End?

FAU Study Answers Crucial Question: Why Do Adolescent Friendships End?

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When you’re young, friendships are everything. Growing up, I did not have a lot of friends, but the friends I did have, I clung on to. My friends provided me a sense of peace when I went to school each day. During the childhood and adolescent years, friendships can help create the foundation of your personality. Sometimes friendships can last for years and years, but more often than not,  they fizzle out.  The ending of a friendship can be incredibly difficult, especially in those early years.

Why do friendships end? That exact question prompted researchers in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science at Florida Atlantic University to conduct a study to find the reason adolescent friendship end. The study examined whether adolescent friendships ended because of undesirable characteristics of friends, because of differences between friends, or both.

The long-term longitudinal study was published in the current issue of Psychological Science. The findings were based off examining 410 adolescents involved in 573 friendships. The study wanted to understand the reasons why friendships tended to end after a while.

Adolescent friendships are fleeting. Most friendships in adolescents dissolve after a year or two. FAU wanted to know the reason behind this phenomenon. In the past, previous studies were short termed and only focused on friendship stability over a one year time frame.

This new study from FAU is one of a kind because it actually took place over the course of six years. The study measured the effects both dissimilarities and undesirable individual attributes in predicting the stability of adolescent friendships.

“Findings from our study suggest that compatibility is a function of similarity between friends rather than the presence or absence of a particular trait,” said Brett Laursen, Ph.D., professor and graduate studies coordinator in FAU’s Department of Psychology. “Adolescents are most likely to enjoy successful, long-term friendships with those who share similar traits.”

Participants of the study were from two middle-schools in lower-middle and mid-class neighborhoods in a small city in the northeastern United States. All friendships examined progressed from grade seven to grade 12. Each year, the data was collected annually during a required English class.

What they found was interesting.

  • Less than 1 in 4 friendships that started in seventh grade was maintained across the next school year.
  • Only 1 in 10 friendships that started in middle school survived the transition to high school.
  • Only one percent of friendships that began in seventh grade managed to continue into the 12th

The study clearly outlined the fleeting nature of friendships. Friendships from middle school struggle during the transition to high school for various reasons. In my observation, people grow apart and personalities differentiate.

The FAU study actually identified the strongest predictors of friendship. Certain differences increased the risk of friendship dissolution. Some of the differences included were:

  • Differences in sex
  • Differences in the degree to which children were liked by other children
  • Differences in physical aggression
  • Differences in school competence

By far, the strongest factor that dissolved friendships was differences in sex. Friendships that were other-sex friendships were almost four times to dissolve than same-sex friendships. The next indicator was difference in physical aggression.

On another note, when individual characteristics were considered alongside difference between friends on the same characteristics, the former did not predict the end of the friendship. Therefore, the study concluded that undesirable attributed are not harmful for friendship stability. As long as the friends display similar levels of undesirable behavior, the friendship is likely to remain stable.

Amy Hartl, first author of the publication and a Ph.D. student working at FAU with Laursen notes,

“Our study will help our understanding of the complex social development of adolescents. The loss of friendships can be painful, even debilitating for middle school adolescents, because they are going through cognitive and emotional changes at the same time that they are establishing independence from their parents.”


Friendships are hard to come by, and even more difficult to maintain.In the end, friendships can be an excellent tool to have as you face challenged in your personal life.  If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please do not wait. Call toll-free 1-800-777-9588.

Author: Shernide Delva

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