Friendship: a descriptive comparative investigation of female, male, and physically disabled young adults



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



A descriptive comparative study was undertaken to explore the nature, attributes, and subjective conceptualizations of friendship. An inductive method, that is, hypothesis forming rather than hypothesis testing was used in a matched group design. Thirty young adults, from three distinct populations, 10 women, 10 men, and 10 physically disabled (PD) males, became participant collaborators in the study. Two comparisons were drawn: female—male and PD--non-PD males. Data were obtained through an individually administered comprehensive Friendship Survey Inventory and a semi structured in-depth interview. Participants' responses were statistically, inductively, and clinically analyzed within groups and compared between (a) groups, (b) sex combination of friendship dyads (same--opposite sex), and (c) subjective friendship classifications (intimate, close, and friend). All 445 friendship bonds listed by participants were quantitatively analyzed. Qualitative analysis were based on 249 semi structured in-depth interviews of randomly selected friendship bonds in each friendship classification. Responses to interview questions, extensive in nature and rich in content and meaning were inductively grouped into a minimun number of conceptual cluster of attributes of friendship relationships. A five point rating scale, devised to assess disclosure levels, was based on three criteria: (a) degree of disclosure of personal information. (b) degree of openness in the relationship, and (c) willingness to disclose additional intimate information in future encounters. Interview questions were designed to obtain data on each criterion. The results of the investigation, extensive and comprehensive in nature indicated numerous areas for further inquiry. Relevant and provocative differences were established between female--male and PD--non-PD participants' subjective perceptions, conceptualizations, and types of friendship liaisons established. Significant differences were found between: (a) female—male disclosure patterns, (b) identifying characteristics and attributes of the three friendship classifications, and (c) ideal friendship conceptualizations and descriptions of ongoing friendships. The differences indicated important phenomenological implications in the functional value of friendship in the fulfillment of human needs. The qualitative analysis pointed out the relevance of friendship in participants' emotional lives. Friendship was considered to be necessary to self fulfillment and a fundamental social need. The findings challenged contemporary speculations and theories proposing the importance of personality variables in friendship formation and maintenance. Not a single participant referred to personality types or characteristics as experientially relevant to friendship formation and maintenance. The results affirmed ancient and classical writters1 emphasis on positive affect and positive attributes, such as love, trust, honesty, loyalty, empathetic understanding, openness, and sincerity as the primary characteristics of friendship relationships. The results offered new dimensions in the understanding of social behavior and emotional need priorities of severely physically disabled males. A salient and unexpected finding was the number of friendship liaisons listed by PD participants, three times as many as non-PD, indicating that PD individuals are not fundamentally excluded from social interaction as it is frequently assumed. It was postulated that for PD individuals, friends function as social facilitators without whom social interaction is restricted. Results indicated that PD participants' low disclosure levels have functional social and emotional value. The results of the study, indicating the importance of friendship for mental health and the generic need of affiliation and disclosure, are of relevance to students of human behavior and mental health practitioners. The normative data established, with respect to range, quality, and emotional value of close social relationships, may be useful tools for therapists, counselors, and educators in the evaluation and understanding of their population's behavior.