Guess what? The people you think are your friends probably aren't. In fact, generally speaking, you're probably terrible at judging how other people actually feel about you.
Such is the optimistic conclusion of a new study published in PLOS ONE, which found that almost half of the people we think are our friends don't think the feeling is mutual.
Scientists at Tel Aviv University teamed up with researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to get 84 undergraduate students in Israel to rate their classmates on a scale from zero to five. A zero rating meant "I don't know this person," a three meant "friend" and a five meant "one of my best friends."
The researchers also asked students to predict how they thought their peers would rate them. Although 95% of participants thought their friendship ratings would be reciprocated, only about half actually were. 47% of the friendship ratings were one-sided, with one student ranking the other as a friend but not being ranked as a friend in return.
"Most of the people are wrong about half of their relationships," Dr. Erez Shmueli, one of the study's authors, said in a phone interview. "We are very bad at judging the types of relationships we have" — which is unfortunate, because this is a skill that's crucial to determining our own social influence.
That said, researchers found a few factors that could help predict if two people would select each other as friends: if they had overlapping social circles, for instance, or if they shared the same approximate number of friends. Someone with few friends, for instance, was more likely to have a one-sided connection with someone who already had a lot of friends, which seems fairly intuitive.
So if the factors that determine our friendships seem so obvious, why do so many of us misjudge our relationships? The researchers think ego is the blind spot that keeps people from recognizing whether their friendship with someone else is mutual or one-sided.
"If you consider someone to be your friend, you expect that person to feel the same way," Shmueli said. Or, as the report puts it: "non-reciprocal friendship challenges one's self-image."
So basically, if you want to do a better job of figuring out who your friends really are: get over yourself and take a brutally honest look at your relationships. "In our daily life as individuals, we can try to understand the kinds of relationships we actually have," Shmueli said. "Who are the people we can trust?"