The Science of Us Guide to Making Friends When You’re an Adult

When you were a kid, making new friends was probably so easy that you barely had to think about it. (“Your favorite Power Ranger is the red one? My favorite Power Ranger is the red one!”) Once you enter into the real world, though, you quickly learn that starting a new friendship can be a little trickier than it used to be. But relax — you don’t have to suffer through adulthood as a sad, friendless loner. Psychologists have uncovered some useful techniques you can borrow in order to trick people into being friends with you. 

Research suggests that we will often feel fonder about someone simply by spending more time with them — a version of what psychologists call the mere-exposure effect. In one recent paper, researchers found that the more time people spent chatting with a stranger online, the more they reported liking that stranger, and plenty of offline research buttresses this idea as well. So make your presence known at the bars and parties and events where the people you want to befriend hang out. You’ll wear ‘em down.

Coming on too strong, too fast, is never good advice, whether you’re talking romance or friendship. But even with a brand-new friend, the conversations don’t have to be entirely superficial. Research has found that slowly upping the intensity of a Q&A can create friendly feelings between strangers in just 45 minutes. 

Psychologists say that feelings of loneliness can often be a self-fulfilling prophecy, and one analysis recently found that guiding people to change the way they reacted to their own loneliness was an effective way of reducing lonely feelings. Researchers had some success in simply urging their withdrawn participants to tell someone about something good that happened during their day. Don’t keep drawing yourself in. Reach out! 

The Science of Us Guide to Making Friends