Highlighting Faculty Member Jaimie Krems


Date published: 06/24/24

Friendship is one of life’s great joys. More than that, having friends can help people live happier, healthier, and even longer lives. Yet today, more people seem to be failing at friendship than ever. The U.S. Surgeon General describes us as facing a Loneliness Epidemic, and others talk of a Friendship Recession. There is no way to combat this epidemic without understanding how friendship works.

The primary focus in UCLA Social Minds Lab is to figure out how people “do” friendship (and reap its benefits). Our work identifies the challenges involved in friendship—finding friends, deepening friendships, keeping friends, dealing with their loss, and so on—and asks how people solve them.

But there are two big hurdles to understanding how people “do” friendship—and thus helping people enjoy the benefits of having friends. First, researchers simply don’t study friendship enough. The Social Minds Lab leverages theory and methods from across social psychology, relationship science, evolutionary and cognitive anthropology, and animal behavior. Yet across even these wide-ranging areas, research on friendship often lags behind work on marriage, romance, or mating. A scholarship that focuses so strongly on mating relationships alone is going to be unable to solve a problem of the magnitude of our current Loneliness Epidemic. Second, existing research on friendship often focuses on us and our friends—that is, it focused on the friendship dyad.

The research team working in the Social Minds Lab—our undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, research scientists, and Dr. Krems—takes the view that our one-on-one friendships exist embedded in broader, complex, and interconnected social worlds. Therein, our friends have their own friendships, relationships, and interactions with other people. These interactions can affect our friends, friendships, and us and our own outcomes.

Acknowledging this complexity changes how we think about and study friendship psychology. Here are a few examples from the lab’s ongoing work. (1) When it comes to finding friends, people are attuned not only to how friends treat us, but also to how our friends treat other people. For example, people report wanting friends who are kind and not vicious—but because our friends also interact with other people, not all of whom wish us well, people report wanting friends who are sometimes more vicious than they are kind…when those friends direct their viciousness toward our rivals. (2) When it comes to deepening our friendships, people compete—sometimes ferociously—to make our friends like us, and, in particular, to like us better than they like their other friends. And (3) when it comes to keeping our friends, feelings of jealousy when our friends make new, close friends might motivate us to act in ways that actually help us hang onto our valued friends. Each of these findings is generated by thinking about how people’s one-on-one friendships live in wider, complex social networks.

To support this work, Dr. Krems has recently won the NSF CAREER Award, which will also help the Social Minds Lab communicate our friendship science to the public. Dr. Krems is also helping to galvanize a community of scholars working on this understudied but vital relationship—co-creating the new UCLA Center for Friendship Research, which aims to host events that put friendship front and center.

Dr. Krems was born in Philadelphia, PA, where she completed an A.B. in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology at Bryn Mawr College before training in the biological bases of behavior at The University of Pennsylvania, cognitive and evolutionary anthropology at The University of Oxford, and social psychology at Arizona State University. After co-founding and helping to run The Oklahoma Center for Evolutionary Analysis (OCEAN) at Oklahoma State University, Dr. Krems, her partner, and their pack of pathetic rescue dogs made their way to Los Angeles. They are all happily exploring LA, where Dr. Krems is spending too much time asking—hopefully in a not-creepy way—to pet other people’s dogs.

Categories: Spotlight