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Teenage Friendships

New research from the University of Bristol sheds some light on why teenage friendship networks are constructed in the way that they are. The study asked about 7,000 teenage students between 15 and 17 who their 5 best friends are. They also gave them questionnaires regarding certain friendship qualities, and information was collected about academic achievement, IQ, behavioral problems, health, future aspirations, personality, and family social status. The study found that the networks of friends were clustered into smaller groups within the larger network. Also it was noted that clusters had very similar traits relating to personality rather than attractiveness or weight suggesting that friendships form deliberately within a small network of friends rather than by a random selection process.

Since friendships form strictly from similar personality traits, it makes sense that a network of teenagers would be constructed in the way that it is. Teenagers that are very similar become friends, and then add those to their friend group that are also similar to them. These friendships could be considered strong ties within a network, or ties between the “most similar” people. As these teenagers get older, they continue to influence each other, and since they remain similar, these ties remain strong, and the friendship circles remain tightly connected. Weak ties may connect the rest of the network through people that may have similar traits to multiple groups. For example, someone may be really athletic and really smart, possibility falling into two separate tightly connected networks or having a weak tie to one and a strong tie to another. It is not likely however, for a person to switch small networks or rather social groups, because that would require the person to become less similar to the group they already belong to, and more similar to another group, while switching around their entire friendship network.

It is interesting that these teenage social networks can later extend to social networks as adults simply because of the categorization one subjects themselves to at a younger age when friendships are extremely important. Categories such as popularity, those that skip class, and those that do well in school remain a tightly knit network of strong ties that extends to new social categorizations such as those that are wealthy, and those that are involved in crime later in life.


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