Researchers have some bad news for those who thought they left the awkward phase of adolescence behind: The quality of teens' close friendships may affect their health into adulthood, according to a new study.
Close friendships and a tendency to follow the crowd were predictors of physical health in adulthood, according to the authors of a study published recently on the website of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
The researchers followed 171 individuals from ages 13 to 27, asking them to rate their health. The researchers asked the teens' close friends to assess the quality of their relationships and the degree to which they conformed to peer norms.
They found the quality of friendships and the tendency to conform to be predictors of later health, even after accounting for other health problems, body mass index, anxious and depressive symptoms, personality characteristics, financial adversity and attractiveness.
“Humans are pack animals,” said Joseph Allen, lead author of the study and a psychology professor at the University of Virginia. “We are meant to be in relationships with other people. When we're isolated, it creates a degree of stress.”
The study's authors also noted that their findings may run counter to popular Western values.
“Although autonomy-establishing behavior is clearly of value in modern Western society, in which daily survival threats are minimal, it may have become linked to stress reactions over the course of human evolution, when separation from the larger human pack was likely to bring grave danger,” according to the study.
That means short of actually jumping off a cliff with all of one's friends, following the crowd might not be such a bad thing for teens.