Why Your Tough-As-Nails Friend Is Your Best One, According to Psychologists

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"Golden Girls" // Touchstone Television

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May 24, 2024 at 11:3PM UTC

Tough love in friendship just received a vote of endorsement from Science.

According to a study published in the Association for Psychological Science, your friend who’s constantly taking a tough-as-nails approach with you may actually care about your happiness the most. A writeup on the study published by Southern Living uses Dorothy from “Golden Girls” (because of course they did) as a prime illustration of this. 

“Researchers found that friends like Dorothy — the ones who say things you don’t want to hear, and who push you out of your comfort zone — act the way they do not for their own personal gain, but because they believe it will help you in the long run,” the article reads. 

Now that we have TV characters to help us process this information — because, in 2019, does anything actually make sense if pop culture can’t contextualize it? — let’s return to what the folks over at APS are saying. The study, somewhat hilariously titled “Cruel to Be Kind: Factors Underlying Altruistic Efforts to Worsen Another Person’s Mood,” explains that friends who care deeply about us may employ a certain kind of “meanness” if they think it’s ultimately in our best interest. 

"We have shown that people can be 'cruel to be kind' — that is, they may decide to make someone feel worse if this emotion is beneficial for that other person, even if this does not entail any personal benefit for them," explained one of the study’s authors, psychological scientist Belén López-Pérez. "We identified several everyday examples where this might be the case — for instance, inducing fear of failure in a loved one who is procrastinating instead of studying for an exam.”

The researchers arrived at the conclusion that this type of “meanness” in close friends may actually be viewed as a form of altruism. Temporarily causing a loved one discomfort for their ultimate benefit is, after all, a sacrifice one is making by risking that person’s favor. And as with Dorothy, famous among her gilded gal friends for her biting sense of humor and tell-it-like-it-is attitude, it can be motivated from a good place. 

"These findings shed light on social dynamics, helping us to understand, for instance, why we sometimes may try to make our loved ones feel bad if we perceive this emotion to be useful to achieve a goal," López-Pérez said. 

One thing’s for sure. With a friend like Dorothy around, at least you never have to question where they stand. And that’s an authenticity we’ll take any day!


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