Tell Me Who You Are, And I’ll Tell You About Your Friendships

Some people seem to have an easier time making new friends. Others may struggle to hit it off with someone new but keep the friends they do have forever. What’s behind these differences? A lot of it comes down to personality...

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Some people seem to have an easier time making new friends.

Others may struggle to hit it off with someone new but keep the friends they do have forever. What’s behind these differences? A lot of it comes down to personality...

When researchers study how personality affects friendships, they tend to focus on the Big Five traits, the most popular personality theory in psychology. These traits are: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness to experience, and neuroticism.

By using the Big Five, researchers have found some fascinating findings about how personality affects friendships...

Extraversion

This trait is about how much you love interacting with people. People that are high in extraversion are gregarious, cheerful, talkative, and have loads of energy.

Surprising no one, extraverts have more friends than introverts. This is because extraverts tend to be more likable in first impressions. They have an easier time initiating interactions with people, make more eye-contact, and smile more. These characteristics lead them to make a more positive impression on others and more people wanting to hang out with them.

Beyond first impressions, extraverts also seem to be better at maintaining more meaningful and satisfying friendships than introverts. Their sociability and people skills help them create more emotional closeness, have deeper conversations, and resolve conflicts effectively. So extraversion is all around great for friendships.

Agreeableness

The research is a bit more nuanced when it comes to agreeableness—that is, how warm, kind and collaborative you are. People that are high in agreeableness are empathetic and get a lot of pleasure out of supporting and taking care of others.

Unlike extraversion, agreeableness has little impact on first impressions—strangely, agreeable and disagreeable make equally positive initial impressions. But, agreeable people make excellent friends. In other words, agreeableness doesn’t bring advantages when initially getting to know someone but is very helpful in maintaining meaningful and satisfying friendships.

Agreeable people’s compassionate nature, eagerness to forgive others, and tendency to use effective conflict management strategies makes them popular as friends. Their friendships also tend to last over time. In fact, being disagreeable makes you more likely to have a friendship break-up.

Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness reflects how careful you are about life’s responsibilities. People that are high in conscientiousness are reliable, determined, and able to prioritise long-term goals over immediate gratification.

Although little research has gone into how conscientiousness affects friendships, the work that has been done shows that conscientiousness seems to work like agreeableness—level of conscientiousness isn’t that important for first impressions, but it becomes more important once you’re already friends with someone.

This probably has something to do with conscientious people being generally trustworthy which helps them maintain friendships over a long time.

Openness to experience

Not to be confused with someone’s tendency to share their thoughts and feelings, openness to new experience is about how much you’re into discovering new things. People high in openness to experience tend to be creative, adventurous, and enjoy playing with new ideas.

People with high openness tend to need less time and contact to consider someone a friend and are more likely to become friends with people in unconventional ways, like meeting over the Internet. Because of this, people with high openness have larger friendship networks and are more likely to maintain friendships with people that live far away.

They’re also more likely to be friends with people that are different than them, going against the general finding that “birds of a feather flock together.”

Although people with high openness tend to have larger, more diverse friendship networks, these friendships are not necessarily emotionally close. With so many people to keep up with and so many new things to experience, it can be hard to get to know any one person on a deeper level.

Neuroticism

This trait is about how easily and strongly you experience negative emotions. Neurotic people tend to react to a situation with more negative emotions, like anxiety and guilt. Less neurotic people are more likely to brush off their misfortune and move on.

Even though neurotic people tend to worry that others won’t like them, neuroticism seems to have little to do with how much people actually like them, at least initially. This might have something to do with the fact that neuroticism can be hard to pick up on when you first meet someone.

Before neurotic folks breathe a sigh of relief, they should know that their neuroticism DOES create challenges for the friendships they already have.

People that are neurotic tend to feel less secure in their friendships which can lead to excessive reassurance seeking. This, along with their tendency to get upset easily, hold grudges, and to provide insufficient support to friends, makes their friendships less satisfying. This dissatisfaction goes both ways—friends of neurotic people are also less satisfied with the friendship.

So if you’re trying to improve your friendships, consider working on your personality...

Want to make a better first impression? Practice being more extraverted. Want to meet more interesting people that are different than you? Work on your openness to experience. Want to have deeper, more satisfying friendships? Foster your extraversion, agreeableness, and dampen down your neuroticism.

Sonia Krol, PhD - Social Psychologist and Resident Friendship Guru @ Pally

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