Drake may have been onto something when he rapped “f**k a fake friend, where your real friends at?” According to a new study by Tel Aviv University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, only half of the people we call friends would reciprocate the notion.

“It turns out that we’re very bad at judging who our friends are,” says Tel Aviv University’s Dr. Erez Shmueli. “And our difficulty determining the reciprocity of friendship significantly limits our ability to engage in cooperative arrangements. We learned that we can’t rely on our instincts or intuition. There must be an objective way to measure these relationships and quantify their impact.”

The joint study involved social experiments and analysis of data from other studies to determine the percentage of reciprocal friendships. Researchers developed an algorithm that was able to divide friendships into two categories: unidirectional or reciprocal.

“We found that 95 percent of participants thought that their relationships were reciprocal,” says Dr. Shmueli. “If you think someone is your friend, you expect him to feel the same way. But in fact that’s not the case – only 50 percent of those polled matched up in the bidirectional friendship category.”


So why did these researchers focus on friendship? It wasn’t just to make you paranoid.

“Reciprocal relationships are important because of social influence,” says Dr. Shmueli. “In this experiment that analyzes different incentives for exercising, we found that friendship pressure far outweighed money in terms of motivation. We found, not surprisingly, that those pressured by reciprocal friends exercised more and enjoyed greater progress than those with unilateral friendship ties.”

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