Is Friendship in our DNA?

Question: I read once that humans are different from other animals in that we seek out other humans for help or friendship. What do you think of this?

Answer: I believe friendship is connected to our brains. So it’s a no-brainer(sorry). But I have researched this and what follows is some of what I have learned.

For many years, the studies done on friendships were mainly centered in the fields of psychology, social anthropology, and sciences that focused on culture and behavior. In the past, the ideas surrounding and supporting friendships were mainly focused on behaviors or the socio-emotional aspects. More recently, friendship is being studied at a cellular level and some science indicates we are hardwired for friendship.

Turns out, friendships may have been part of man’s evolution. The oldest part of our brains is the brain stem. Also called the lizard brain. This part of our brain is responsible for primitive survival instincts. So, as you can see, we really do have the need for friendship in our DNA!

Our lizard brain is what kept early man from being eaten by a predator. The lizard brain is where the fight, flight, or freeze reaction is triggered. It’s where we store deep habits that we can seem to do without actively thinking about them. 

Humans have evolved over 300,000 years and their brains are quite different than they used to be. One theory, the triune brain in evolution states that the brain is in three parts-

  1. Reptilian Brain
  2. Paleomammalian Brain  
  3. Neomammalian Brain 

As the brain has evolved it has changed and adapted to include socialization. In addition to the primitive functions of the reptilian brain, the other two parts are hardwired for more collaborative, nurturing, and communal behaviors. 

The Paleomammalian brain developed over time to control our emotions, motivations, and behaviors like parenting and developing friendships. The Neomammalian brain evolved to control our language, reasoning, and planning so we could maintain those friendships. 

As our brains developed, we began to see the value in connecting with other people for survival rather than simply relying on ourselves. This translated to groups forming to share resources, protect each other, and prosper, ultimately creating a sense of clan or community. Instead of self-survival, group survival became the norm. 

Modern man gains a lot more biological gold from friendships. Today, friends have a direct and deep impact on our physical and mental health. Did you know, friends can have a positive effect on some physical functions of our bodies? It’s true! Friendships can help

  • Lower high blood pressure
  • Improve quality of sleep
  • Reduce depression
  • Boost immunity
  • Increase self-esteem and personal happiness 
  • And much more!

So, it seems feeling friendly isn’t just the feel-good emotions that help us love one another. Friendship may be internally hardwired into our brains. Finding and keeping healthy friends can keep our bodies and our minds working as they’re designed.

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