The Evolutionary Aspects of Friendship

We want to support our friends simply since they are our friends, not because doing so would benefit us in the future. Furthermore, an instantaneous bilateral transaction tendency is generally associated with marital discord and the anticipation that the marriage may end in divorce, which may be another cooperative partnership.

Are individuals fooling themselves? Do we genuinely desire reciprocal benefits, or do we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are doing it out of a sense of altruism? Some claim we should pay attention to people's suppositions in these situations because they indicate that friendships may not always be built on mutual dialogue.

Defining Altruism Based on the Expenses Incurred

Altruism is not seen as having evolved by current evolutionary theories until the altruist pays the price. In kin selection, a person's cost to themselves is balanced by a genetic relative's benefit. In bilateral altruism, the self-cost is mitigated by the benefit of receiving the favour from the buddy.

In essence, altruism has been comprehended based on the expense the altruist makes. From an evolutionary standpoint, the less familiar the distribution of these advantages will be, the higher the cost to an individual of providing benefits to others. Perks will be more widely dispersed the more affordable it is to provide them to everyone.

Following the evolution of adaptations for providing advantages to others, future evolution will work to reduce these expenditures or make it advantageous for the actor to provide such benefits. This argument implies a class of altruistic procedures that have not been studied. Mechanisms created to assist others when doing so are the least expensive and most advantageous to the actor.

From an evolutionary point of view, giving benefits to others will be less common the more expensive it is for one person to do so. Benefits will be more widespread the less expensive they are to provide to others. After adaptations for providing benefits to other people have evolved, subsequent evolution will act to reduce their costs or even make it advantageous for the actor to provide such benefits.

Based on this logic, a large class of new altruistic mechanisms exist. These mechanisms are made to help other people when the actions that come from them are the least expensive and most beneficial to the actor. The "banker's paradox" separates us from kin selection and reciprocal altruism.

One's investment may be lost if the assistance recipient dies, loses their group status for good or becomes seriously ill. Compared to people with more favourable circumstances, a person in dire straits is less desirable as an investment. This could result in adaptations that cause a person to abandon a friend when they most need help.

On the other hand, if the problem is only temporary, like an unusual lack of success hunting, then the person might be an especially appealing target for assistance. Indeed, it may be promising to assist a person in need for a short period because the person in need would greatly value the assistance. In conclusion, selection should favour adaptations that inspire good decisions regarding when and to whom one should offer assistance.

Becoming Irreplaceable for Friendship

One approach to this adaptive dilemma is developing the ability to be indispensable or invaluable to others. Even if two friends offer equal worth perks, a disposable person—someone who offers advantages easily obtained from others—is more prone to deserting us than an irreplaceable individual.

According to this logic, the devotion of our friendship should be contingent on how vital each buddy has become. No empirical studies have evaluated these techniques' efficacy for developing irreplaceability. Nonetheless, these tactics seem to capture many characteristics of what folks genuinely do.

Strategies from becoming irreplaceable −

  • Promote a reputation that highlights one’s unique or exceptional attributes

  • Be motivated to recognize personal attributes that others value but that they have difficulty getting from other people

  • Cultivate specialized skills that increase irreplaceability

  • Preferentially seek out people or groups that value what you have to offer and what others in the group tend to lack—groups in which one’s assets will be most appreciated

  • Avoid social groups in which one’s unique attributes are not valued or in which one’s unique attributes are easily provided by others

  • Drive off rivals who offer benefits that you alone formerly provided

Deep Involvement, Fair-Weather Buddies, and the Problems of Contemporary Life

Becoming someone's buddy is simple in happy times instead of difficult ones. Everyone has known pals who only show up when things are going well. However, it might be challenging to discover a true friend—someone we believe in our hearts and we can count on when times are bad. The issue is that loyal and fair-weather friends behave similarly when things are going well.

The adaptation challenge is distinguishing between genuine friends genuinely concerned for our well-being and fair-weather companions who would desert us in our greatest need since fair-weather friends can mirror genuine friends.

Human evaluation systems should be designed through selection to detect these distinctions. The assistance we obtain during extreme need is the surest sign of a friend's sincerity. Help obtained now will serve as a considerably more accurate barometer than assistance acquired during any other time. We have a distinct memory of these specific moments.

We go out of our way to show gratitude and let the individual know we will never forget how they assisted us when we most required it. The paradox of modernity exists. Most of today's "hostile elements of nature", which might have put our forefathers in danger, have been tamed or regulated because humans act to avert moments of complex personal problems. To prevent robbery, violence, and murder, we have legislation. We have cops to handle many of the tasks that friends once handled. Several causes of sickness have been eradicated thanks to scientific expertise.

In many ways, the atmosphere we are living in now is better and more secure than it was for our forefathers. Hence, paradoxically, we experience a relative dearth of pivotal moments that would enable us to distinguish between our fair-weather friends and those genuinely invested in our prosperity. The lack of actual evaluation events that let us know who is genuinely involved may cause the melancholy and estrangement many people experience in modern life—a lack of a profound social connection despite many pleasant and supportive contacts.

Limited Niches for Friendships

Each person has a limited amount of time, energy, and effort, as stated in the Tooby and Cosmides theory of the evolution of friendship. In the same way, you cannot be in two places simultaneously; choosing to befriend one person is the same as choosing not to befriend another. This hypothesis indicates that each individual has a predetermined number of friendship specialities, so the issue is choosing who will fill these openings.

This theory has different repercussions than the conventional theory of reciprocal altruism, in which you give benefits with the expectation that they will be returned. Instead, Tooby and Cosmides (1996) suggest that your choice of friends should be based on several other factors.

  • There are currently available slots. How many friends do you already have, and do you consider them genuine or just friends? If there are few, psychological mechanisms should drive actions like making yourself more appealing to potential friends, recruiting new friends, or strengthening or deepening existing relationships.

  • Assess who transmits positive externalities. There is a formidable physical presence in your neighbourhood, perhaps a person with the build of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Because the mere fact that he is in your neighbourhood deters robbers and other criminals, fewer criminals will target you and your family as a result. Some people give you just side effects of their actions or existence—benefits that are not acts of altruism. These beneficial side effects are referred to as positive externalities by economists.

  • Choose friends who can read your mind well. Helping somebody is more straightforward if you understand their psyche and expect needs. A friend who can read your mind and comprehend your values, desires, and beliefs can assist you in ways that are advantageous to you and less expensive for them. For instance, if someone fails to recognize when you require something, they might miss an opportunity to assist you.

  • Choose friends who think you cannot be replaced. Regarding your well-being, a friend who views you as irreplaceable has a more significant stake than one who views you as disposable. Filling your existence with companions who think of you as indispensable, all else equivalent, ought to bring about a more noteworthy progression of advantages.

  • Choose friends who share your interests and aspirations. An excellent outcome will result from spending time with friends who share your values: Because you both want the same things, they will simultaneously change your environment to accommodate your wishes as they modify their local environments. Let us look at a small example. Assume you like wild gatherings and have a companion who prefers wild parties. Your friend looks for these parties, gets invited, and goes to them often. You can occasionally accompany this person because you are friends with them. Because you both desire the same things, your friend provides you with benefits at little or no cost.


One approach to this adaptive dilemma is developing the ability to be indispensable or invaluable to others. This logic suggests that the devotion of our friendship should be contingent on how vital each buddy has become. However, it is difficult to distinguish between genuine friends genuinely concerned for our well-being and fair-weather companions who would desert us in our greatest need.

The paradox of modernity exists as humans’ act to avert moments of complex personal problems. The most critical details in this text are that it is essential to choose friends who can read your mind well, understand your psyche, understand your values, desires, and beliefs, think of yourself as irreplaceable, share your interests and aspirations, and provide you with benefits at little or no cost.

Additionally, friends who consider themselves indispensable have a more significant stake in your well-being than those who view themselves as disposable.

Updated on: 12-Apr-2023


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