Having friends will keep you healthy in the Covid-19 times and, if we believe researchers, feelings of jealousy can even be a useful tool to maintain and strengthen your bonding with friends during the pandemic.
Not having friends has been associated with a greater risk of dying from heart disease and falling victim to viruses.
A new study from Arizona State University, Oklahoma State University, and Hamilton College found that feelings of jealousy in these times were related to the value of the friendship, and also motivated behaviours 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 Jaimie Arona Krems, from Arizona State University (ASU) and who 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, revealed the study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
“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,” said Douglas Kenrick, President’s Professor of psychology at ASU.
The authors 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”.
Feelings of jealousy over being replaced were associated with behaviours that could overcome the third-party threats, like trying to monopolise a best friend’s time and manipulate their emotions.
“Together, these behaviours 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 Keelah Williams, an assistant professor of psychology at Hamilton College.
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 Athena Aktipis, assistant professor of psychology at ASU and one of the authors of the paper.