Jason Boardman (associate professor of sociology and faculty research associate with the Population Program in CU-Boulder’s Institute of Behavioral Science) has worked with a team of researchers to explain the social and scientific factors that contribute to making human friendships. His research team includes Benjamin Domingue, who is a research associate in the Population Program, and Jason Fletcher, who is an associate professor of health policy at the Yale School of Public Health.
This team of researchers found that genetic similarities might help explain why humans build friendships; in other words, humans tend to befriend those who are genetically similar to them. Times magazine has called this making “friends with (genetic) benefits.” The research team predicted that there would be the highest level of genetic homophily (“love of the same”) among friends when they are in socially equal environments. However, their research proved differently. Humans only tend to befriend those with similar genes when they are in environments that discourage disparate groups of people from mingling with each other. When we find ourselves in socially equal situations, there is less genetic similarity amongst friends.
Thus, the research team found that humans truly befriend each other based on the social environment where they interact. This is right in line with what Boardman and Fletcher are passionate about: integrating natural sciences with social sciences. They host an annual conference called Integrating Genetics and the Social Sciences. Boardman stated, “You can’t understand the spread of health behaviors — why people smoke, why they drink, why they may or may not be obese — unless you understand their genetic liability and also place them in the right social context.” Overall, the social factors that contribute to behaviors are an absolutely necessary part of understanding the science behind behaviors.
This study was the first of its kind, and Boardman, Fletcher and Domingue’s research was published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.