Friendship: Definition, Types, And Motives


Humans are socially intertwined creatures whose psychological and physical health is dependent on relationships. Various studies, including Lu et al. (2021), suggest that an individual’s mental and physical well-being depends on their social relations. The issue of friendship was explored by Aristotle more than 2300 years ago and highlighted three types of friendships: utility, pleasure, and virtue (Anderson & Fowers, 2019). Various studies by other authors have shown that people form friendships for different reasons. Some state that it is formed for voluntary, social relations, improved life satisfaction, diverse motives, and compatibility. Some of these views are contradictory, which shows a need for much research on the issue of friends. Therefore, this study will evaluate different friendship factors by using thematic analysis to code an interview and present the results. In addition, it will provide a detailed analysis of the finding and come up with a conclusion on friendship.

Literature Review

Different scholars have provided different definitions of friendships with varying motives. Bigby & Craig (2016) defines friendship as a voluntary action that requires much thought, attention, dedication and long-time commitment. The author shows this using a case study of two friends, Dorelle and Heather, based on mutual caring, reciprocity, and finding the good in each other. Heather had a severe intellectual disability, while Dorelle had self-confidence issues. However, out of their volunteer friendship, Heathers demonstrated improved quality of life and enhanced social dignity, which helped Dorelle change her negative self-perception about herself.

Another study visualises friendship as ongoing associations which lead to social relations and improved life satisfaction. According to a study by Amati et al. (2018), having social relationships beyond family is an essential source of support in times of need. Having good and supportive friends in life increase the overall life satisfaction of an individual. High-quality friendship includes intimacy, reciprocity and support from one another (Khullar et al., 2021). On the contrary, poor acquaintances are characterized by a lack of positive interactions, leading to anxiety. The importance of friendships in an individual’s life cannot be underestimated; that is why individuals are encouraged to have friends with whom they socially relate.

Friendships can be based on diverse motives whereby the individuals do not have the same aims. People with different opinions or cultures can still engage in friendship. Research by Lu et al. (2021) showed that people from high-economic countries with higher levels of education and women emphasized friendships even though they were based on diverse ideas. In addition, culturally diverse people were found to have close friendships based on their diverse issues, especially people from high economies with those from low economies (Lu et al., 2021). However, this type of friendship is mainly based on exploitation, whereby one of the friends is likely to exploit the other. For instance, people from low economic backgrounds may use those from high economic economies by asking for financial support (Khullar et al., 2021). Despite the type of friendship people had, it was found that friendships lead to better health outcomes and well-being.

A contrary study suggests that friendship may thrive out of compatibility. It suggests that the love of a common thing causes friendship (Lim et al., 2020). People with common interests are likely to find it easy to get along compared to when they are of a different opinion. Unlike the previous study that showed friendship could be based on diversity, Laursen’s (2017) research found that friends avoid things that may provide dissimilarity to them. For instance, if two people are friends and one of them likes cinemas while the other does not, they are likely to avoid the dissimilarity by either both of them liking cinemas or avoiding cinemas. This shows that friends choose each other based on similarities and resemblances and influence each other to be the same (Laursen, 2017). This shows that similarity is an essential issue in friendship and significantly contributes to the type of friends. That is why people may have several friends based on the things they like. For instance, if a person likes horse riding and swimming, they are likely to have friends who like horse riding and other friends who like swimming too. This is because they have similarities in those events; otherwise, they are likely to influence their friends to join both sports.


One of the evident themes from the coding of data is desirable traits. According to the data, it was evident that people are likely to make friends with those who have good character traits and break relationships with those who have bad character traits. This study grouped good character traits as those desirable by someone, such as trust, honesty, kindness, and loyalty (Hoffmann et al., 2020). On the other hand, bad character traits were described as not desirable, such as being a bully, untrustworthy, and taking advantage of others (Hoffmann et al., 2020). In this case, Alexander shows how desirable traits made him make some of his current friends. “I think the main aspect is trust,” states Alexander when asked what friendship means to him. He goes on further and adds, “You’ve got to be able to rely on,” implying that he needs someone with the desirable characteristics of trust.

Another desirable characteristic Alexander demonstrates for people to have friendship with him is kindness. He describes how his friend invited him over to the US and stayed at their home for three months without paying any bills. His mum would do anything to ensure that Alexander’s stay in the US was comfortable, including ironing his clothes. “I wasn’t even allowed to pay anything, erm I had to battle to give them anything, and his mum actually did all my ironing and everything…” states Alexander. This act of kindness made him have a stronger relationship with his friend because it was a desirable trait and proved to improve their social relationship (Amati et al., 2018). In another incident, Alexander narrates how he explained to his friend about a watch he saw at the store but could not purchase because he did not have enough money, and during his birthday, the friend got him the exact same watch as a gift. This was another act of kindness by his friend for Alexander, which strengthened their friendship.

On the other hand, Alexander has undesirable traits, making him drop some of his friends. For instance, he narrates one of his friends who was a bully and used to beat him with swords. He states, “I think he had a mental problem I think because he used to make swords out of erm pieces of metal and everything and he used to have sword fights and not just playful, he would actually whack you, and he went absolutely ape and then whenever someone else.” This made him angry and made Alexander cut his relationship with this friend. Although he had been friends with this bully, his undesirable character affected them (Kristjánsson, 2020). Although later the friend changed, the memories of his bad traits hindered Alexander from befriending him because he did not want to emulate them.

Another instance where Alexander left a friendship because of undesirable character was during the fall out with a friend who was mad at him because of a football match. Although he considers this a stupid action, Alexander’s friend was mad at him because Manchester United had beaten Southampton in a football match. The friend no longer talked to him, so Alexander decided not to talk to him either. According to Lessard and Juvonen (2018), communication is essential in a relationship because as people talk, they share their emotions, feelings, views, and thoughts. However, Alexander did not know how to handle his friend without communication. This led to their fallout, and Alexander vowed never to talk to this friend again.

The other theme evident in this interview in creating friendship was the impact of the friendship. According to Aristotle, the impact of a friendship is essential in determining the period that the relationship will last (Pouwels et al., 2021). Friendships with mutual benefits are likely to last longer than those with one-sided benefits. When there is mutual benefit, there is no degree to which both friends will feel that they do not need each other (Pouwels et al., 2021). In addition, friendships with positive impacts are expected to last longer than those with negative impacts. This has been well demonstrated in the interview by Alexander defining his various friendships.

Alexander’s acquaintanceship with his best friend is based on the fact that there is a positive impact. The two guys were studying together, which showed that they both benefitted from the friendship because they had shared goals. This shows that their friendship was beneficial and had positive motives (Xiao et al., 2020). In various instances, such as when Alexander’s father passed, and he could not attend class, his friends would send him notes to revise what they had learned. It shows that their friendship had a positive impact on his academics, and that was the reason he valued those friends more. Mertika et al. (2020) aimed to find the particular characteristics of positive relationships. They found that all relationships at one point correlated to well-being differently. In addition, acquaintances want friendships that enhance their well-being by sharing positive events and moments, being emotional, and showing an attitude of interest (Mertika et al., 2020). “Not at all, no, I just give them a bell…” said Alexander to show that he did not have to push his friends to do stuff such as registration, getting booklets, and such stuff.

Another piece of evidence to prove that Alexander’s relationship was based on positive effects was the emotional support he got from his friends when his father passed. “Certain level, yeah, so there are some good friends there, and definitely since that with my dad, I’ve er, there’s been quite a bit of support there from them as well so,” said Alexander. His friends gave him the much-needed emotional support when he desperately needed it. This is in line with Mertika et al. (2020), who stated that friendship with positive impacts has to show an attitude of interest and emotional engagement. Alexander’s friends were free to talk about the issue of the suicide of his father, and this made him feel better. “They’ve been absolutely fantastic, yeah…” implying the emotional support they gave, which was helpful. Some of them were even surprised that Alexander was okay to talk about the issue of his father’s death, unlike how many people prefer to be left alone during such moments. However, their friendship made him feel comfortable, and he shared his emotional experiences with them, which indicates their friendship’s positive impact.

Before going to the camp, Alexander has engaged most of the people who will be on the camp in an attempt to be-friend them. This is because friendship will positively impact the camping experience (Kus Ambrož et al., 2021). The more friends he has on the three-week camp, the more enjoyable the camp will be. He states, “I’m going on a trek afterwards from her New York to LA for three weeks which is camping and roughing it, and it’s gunna be fun and I found that er they’ve got a blog space on their web page so I put on saying that ‘I’ve created a group in Facebook, you know let’s get together, lets get to know each other as we are gunna spend three weeks with each other”. This shows that Alexander is using utility friendship in this case, whereby he needs to create friends so that his camping experience in the USA will not be boring (Newman et al., 2018). Thus, he needs friendship for camping experiences; however, after the camping, he will no longer require the friendship anymore. This shows that Alexander needs friends during this experience to gain the positive impacts of camping with them.

On the contrary, Alexander has a habit of dropping friendships that negatively impact him. As stated in the Stigma theory, when people engage in violent friendships, it lead to a decrease in friends (Wallace & Ménard, 2016). These effects were more evident for females and people with a higher number of depressive symptoms (Wallace & Ménard, 2016). Victimization and violent experiences lead to negative impacts, such as a person being hurt physically or emotionally, and therefore most people are likely to drop friends who expose them to such dangers. This theory was demonstrated by Alexander when he had a violent friend who used swords on him. He exposed Alexander to the negative impacts of their friendship, and therefore Alexander had to stop the relationship. Alexander states, “I think he had a mental problem I think because he used to make swords out of erm pieces of metal and everything and he used to have sword fights and not just playful, he would actually whack you…” This was an indication that their friendship had more negative impacts than positive ones; therefore, he had to stop it.

When asked about his other friends at school, Alexander states that although he does not dislike people, there are some friends he dropped. From a deeper analysis, it was evident that he dropped them due to the negative impact they had on his life. “I’ve always been sort of erm bullied, I know when you erm, some of my friends you know took, I got taken advantage of, I’m a nice guy, you know does everything for everyone, doesn’t say no, and people took advantage of me…” Alexander states. Newman et al. (2018) found that friends with negative impacts can affect a person’s health by causing psychological scars, reinforcing their bad habits on the person, and might hinder a person from seeking mental help. Since Alexander was a nice person, he was taken advantage of and, in most cases, negatively impacted him. He felt that his junior life friends used him for their benefits, which irritated him. Therefore, he had to cut off these friends because they negatively influenced them.

The final theme in Alexander’s interview is that he preferred the virtue type of friendship to utility and pleasure friendships. A virtue friendship is one in which both friends care for each other’s needs and involve social activities. Willian Bukowski wrote that a friendship is facilitated by appreciation or showing concern through honesty, generosity, authenticity, and kindness rather than perfection (Hoyos-Valdés, 2017). There are various instances where Alexander chooses friends based on virtue compared to utility and pleasure.

When asked what he considers essential in a friendship, he states that it is trust. ‘I think the main aspect is trust.’ Although trust may be seen as a trait, in this context, Alexander uses it as an element of a virtuous relationship. He states that he needs someone he can trust and that he got his back when facing the other way. He hopes that his friendship with his best friend will last forever, meaning that whether he benefits or does not benefit from the friend, he will still maintain the friendship. This is a good sign of a virtuous relationship (Berg, 2020). The other two types of relationships are based on various mutual benefits; when they cease to exist, the friendship is over.

On the other hand, Alexander did not form relationships with people who did not have virtuous traits. He states, “Quite a few times, erm sometimes I thought they were friends and they ended up being just people you couldn’t trust, and I was lied to, or er yeah, in the end, bullied you and you know.” However, after being lied to for some time, Alexander noticed that these friends were not virtuous and had to unfriend them. A friend is always a mirror of someone; therefore, if a friend has negative virtues, they are likely to influence the same to you (Apostolouberg et al., 2020). Friends are likely to influence each other to be the same since friendships are based on similarities. Thus, if a friend has bad virtues such as cheating, they are likely to influence their friends to cheat. Good friends base their friendship on acknowledgment and appreciation. Therefore, if friends become bullies or liars, they do not appreciate Alexander’s honesty.


Humans must form social relationships to enhance their mental and physical well-being. However, some friendships, such as utility and pleasure friendships, may cause more harm than good to mental and physical health, which is why people choose friends wisely. Virtuous friendship is a fruitful friendship method because both individuals have each other’s interests in their hearts. According to the thematic analysis, there were three evident themes in forming relationships: desirable traits, the impact of friendship, and virtuous friendship. Alexander relied heavily on these virtues in choosing his friends, which shows that they are significant factors in ensuring long-term friendships.


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