Do you make friends easily?

This column originally appeared in The Observer magazine/Guardian online

Are you the type of person who makes friends easily? We can find out using something called the wall-sit test. Squat against a wall with your knees at a 90-degree angle, and keep your back straight. Hold this position for as long as you can, timing yourself with a stopwatch (there’s probably one on your phone).

How did you get on? When this study was completed under test conditions – at the University of Oxford no less – the average was just under two minutes (113 seconds, to be precise), though with quite a bit of variability (the most iron-willed participant held on for an impressive six-and-a-half minutes).

What has this got to do with making friends? Well, the researchers found that the greater a person’s tolerance to pain (as measured by the wall-sit test), the greater the size of his or her “outer network” (all but the most antisocial of us have an inner network of core friends; the outer network is the number of more distant friends – those we’re in touch with once or twice a month). For example, someone who can wall-sit for about a minute typically has somewhere between 1 and 10 friends of this type, someone who can hold on for three minutes typically has between 10 and 20.

 

Why? Not because both physical pain and second-tier friends are something to be endured. The answer is that the binding of a particular endorphin (the brain’s “feel-good” chemicals) to a particular type opioid receptor (part of the brain’s painkilling system) is associated with both pain tolerance and social bonding. The more active this system, the better you are at both.

 

A fully referenced version of this article is available at benambridge.com. Order Psy-Q by Ben Ambridge (Profile Books, £8.99) for £6.99 at bookshop.theguardian.com

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