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Jealousy Can Strengthen Friendships

New research discovers that feelings of jealousy can be a useful tool in maintaining friendships. Having friends is healthy. Not having friends is associated with a greater risk of dying from heart disease and with becoming sick from viruses.

Investigators from Arizona State University, Oklahoma State University, and Hamilton College discovered that feelings of jealousy can help maintain friendships. Researchers found that feelings of jealousy were related to the value of the friendship and also motivated behaviors that maintain friendships.

“Friends aren’t just fun. They are an important resource, especially in our current situation with ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks. Friends give support during conflict, buffer against loneliness, and can even provide life sustaining resources when we need them,” said Dr. Jaimie Arona Krems. Krems studied the issue while earning her doctorate at Arizona State University and is now an assistant professor of psychology at Oklahoma State University.

“We wanted to understand how we keep friendships, and we found feelings of jealousy can act like a tool for maintaining friendships.”

Not all threats to friendships evoked jealousy. If a best friend moved away, people felt sadness and anger more than jealousy. But when friendships were threatened by another person such as a new romantic partner or new friend at work, jealousy was the dominant feeling.

The intensity of jealous feelings varied by how likely the third-party threat was to replace someone in the friendship. A best friend gaining a romantic partner elicited less jealous feelings than them gaining a potential new friend.

“The third party threats to a 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. We found people felt less jealous about their best friend spending the same amount of time with a new romantic partner than a new acquaintance, which means what makes us most jealous of is the possibility that we might be replaced,” said Dr. Douglas Kenrick, a professor of psychology at ASU and an author on the paper.

The research findings appear online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Investigators discovered feelings of jealousy over being replaced were associated with behaviors that could overcome the third-party threats, like trying to monopolize a best friend’s time and manipulate their emotions.

“Together, these behaviors are called ‘friend guarding’, and they occur across cultures and also in non-human animals. Female wild horses are known to bite and kick other female horses,” said Dr. Keelah Williams, an assistant professor of psychology at Hamilton College.

However, not all friend-guarding behaviors focus on trying to control a best friend; jealousy also led people to commit to being a better friend.

“Getting jealous can sometimes be a signal that a friendship is threatened, and this signal can help us jump into action to invest in a friendship that we might have been neglecting,” said Dr. Athena Aktipis, assistant professor of psychology at ASU and co-author on the paper.

Source: Arizona State University/EurekAlert

Jealousy Can Strengthen Friendships

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2020). Jealousy Can Strengthen Friendships. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 11 Aug 2020 (Originally: 12 Aug 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 11 Aug 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.