Although rivalrous friendships have long had the power to fascinate writers, filmmakers, and showrunners, a new study suggests that feelings of jealousy can actually be a usual tool in maintaining a friendship.
The research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, notes that jealousy can motivate people to maintain their friendships in the face of real or perceived threats from third parties, such as a new romantic interest or work buddy.
While not all threats to friendships evoked jealousy, researchers from Arizona State University (ASU), Oklahoma State University, and Hamilton College have found that people reported greater friendship jealousy when rivals were same-sex acquaintances than romantic partners.
“The third-party threats to friendship were not just related to a best friend spending time away from us: It mattered whether the person they were spending time with could replace us as a friend,” Douglas Kenrick, who is a professor of psychology at ASU and an author on the paper, commented.
Although feelings of jealousy vary by how likely the third-party threat is to replace someone in the friendship, they are often associated with friend-guarding behaviors such as trying to monopolize a best friend’s time and manipulate their emotions.
These behaviors occur across cultures and in the animal realm, as female wild horses are known to bite and kick other female horses that they perceive as a threat.
However, researchers note that jealousy can also motivate us to engage in more positive behavior aimed at preventing the loss of valued friends to other people, “making it one important but previously overlooked tool of friendship maintenance.”
“Getting jealous can sometimes be a signal that friendship is threatened, and this signal can help us jump into action to invest in a friendship that we might have been neglecting,” Athena Aktipis, assistant professor of psychology at ASU and author on the paper, noted
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