TIME Education

How Classroom Curriculum Can Impact Children’s Friendships

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Simply placing children with and without disabilities in the same classroom will not guarantee peer acceptance or friendships

Friendship is often described as a major outcome of early childhood inclusive classrooms that support all children, irrespective of their abilities.

Friendships provide children with joy, laughter and comfort. They may also prevent later bullying and support smoother transitions into kindergarten for children with a range of disabilities. Friendships are considered a vital developmental milestone for all children.

Yet, developing close relationships may be difficult for some children. This is especially true for children who enter school without well-developed social-emotional skills. About 40% of children with disabilities, for example, enter kindergarten without developing age-appropriate skills in this area.

So, what impact does curriculum have on the development of friendships for children with disabilities? And how can teachers help nurture these friendships?

Investigating the impact of curriculum

To answer these questions, we conducted a study that included 110 kindergarteners, 26 of whom had disabilities, within six classrooms across a Midwest and a New England state.

This study took place as part of another longer-term research project in which teachers were randomly assigned to use either a “disability-awareness curriculum” or a modified science curriculum.

In our study, curricula included similar components of class-wide book readings and teacher-led discussions, “cooperative learning groups” (a teaching strategy that brings together groups of students with different abilities), and a classroom lending library to promote shared reading at home.

These curricula were chosen because they were alike in some ways. Both allowed teachers to focus discussions on similarities between the book content and kindergarteners. And both could include the three core components (ie, book reading, cooperative groups, and home literacy).

What we found surprised us. The number of close friendships among children with disabilities significantly increased in classrooms where the science curriculum was implemented.

Examining the results more closely

Implementation of the two curricula was designed to create similar opportunities for interactions between children with and without disabilities.

In their classrooms, children participated in similar activities: they were read books and encouraged to participate in discussions either about disability or science-related topics. Each week, children were able to take one of the books home that was read to them at school.

However, the cooperative learning groups were designed differently. In the cooperative learning groups for the science curriculum, children focused on science activities that were more outcome-orientated (eg, making bird nests, measuring worms).

In the cooperative learning groups for the disability-awareness curriculum, children participated in play-based activities with open-ended materials and toys (eg, farm animals and a barn, pretend kitchen set and food).

Our observations of children’s play during the cooperative learning groups suggest that participating children with disabilities may not have had the skills needed to fully engage in the group’s play.

For example, some children struggled to enter into ongoing play. During one such activity, a child was playing with a “pretend cash register” and another child with a disability wanted a turn with it. The child asked his peer if he could play with it. However, the peer said no.

In response, the child repeated his same question again and again, receiving the same response from his peer. The child with a disability did not have a broad repertoire of social or play skills to try other strategies such as asking if he might have a turn when the peer was done, or if he could trade roles with the peer (eg, become the cashier and suggest the peer become a shopper).

It seems that cooperative play is an area in which advanced or higher-level skills are needed to be successful. These skills include sharing materials, assisting peers, entering into ongoing play or offering a storyline for imaginative play.

The results from this study on friendships suggest that without these skills, children’s contributions to play may have been less successful, and peers may have viewed children with disabilities as less than ideal play partners.

In comparison, the science experiences such as making bird nests together, painting group posters with each child’s handprints on them and measuring the length of worms may have provided children with outcome-oriented tasks and the support needed to participate in ways similar to peers.

A shared activity with a common goal may have provided the structure that some children with disabilities needed to successfully participate alongside peers. In this arrangement, peers may have viewed classmates with disabilities as competent contributors to the group task.

Taken together, this could have been the reason for the increase in close classroom friendships for children with disabilities who participated in the science curriculum.

What can we learn from this?

First, there has been a lot of discussion focused on how play is no longer a valued part of kindergarten education in the United States. Also, kindergarten schedules leave very little room for play or for supporting the development of social-emotional skills.

Our results provide support for creating opportunities for children to learn through playful interactions. These findings also acknowledge that some children may enter school with limited social-emotional and play skills that are needed to form friendships. These children need teacher support and repeated classroom opportunities to master those skills.

Second, the debate of whether kindergarten classes should have either an academic or social focus must stop.

We believe that the structure of the science-based cooperative learning groups in our study may have served an important role in supporting the development of close friendships, especially for children with disabilities.

We also believe that social-emotional skill development, and the development of friendships, can occur across the school day depending on how teachers structure their classroom environment and schedule, and support learning outcomes.

What can teachers do?

Early childhood teachers can support the development of friendships by the way they structure activities in their classroom.

For example, teachers can purposefully place more social children next to quieter children during group activities. They can pair children who already have a budding relationship to do an activity together, or they can create activities in which small groups of children can interact while completing a project together.

Teachers can support the development of social skills through large and small group instruction. Also, teachers can provide individualized social skill instruction based on student needs, and on an individual basis as necessary.

Inclusive classrooms are a trend increasing in the United States. Teaching children how to share, how to handle anger and conflict, how to express their emotions and how to enter into ongoing play situations are all important skills for young children to learn. Some children might need more support than others to develop these skills.

Simply placing children with and without disabilities in the same classroom will not guarantee peer acceptance or friendships.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation

The Conversation

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME celebrities

Here’s How Taylor Swift Surprised Her Best Friend For Her Birthday

Reconfirming your suspicions that she's the best friend ever

For those who wished they were a part of Taylor Swift’s high-power girlfriend crew, here’s another instance of the pop star being the world’s best best friend.

Swift decided to give her high school friend, and often award show date, Abigal Anderson a 25th birthday surprise: A special sing-along performance by her all-time favorite band Dashboard Confessional.

Here’s how it unfolded, as told by Instagram:

The Surprise – Part One @abigail_lauren

A video posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

The Surprise – Part Two @abigail_lauren

A video posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

It was very well received.

The Surprise – The Finale @abigail_lauren @yelyahwilliams @dashboardconfessional

A video posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

 

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

You Asked: How Many Friends Do I Need?

You Asked: How Many Friends Do I Need?
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Maybe just a handful, though quality trumps quantity.

Friends do your health so many favors. They protect your health as much as quitting smoking and a great deal more than exercising, according to a large 2010 review in the journal PLOS One. More research has shown that socially isolated people are more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those with a solid social circle.

“Strong social relationships support mental health, and that ties into better immune function, reduced stress and less cardiovascular activation,” says Dr. Debra Umberson, a sociologist at the University of Texas, Austin. Umberson says emotional support is just one of a dozen ways friends may safeguard your health and extend your life.

MORE Here’s How Hugs Can Prevent the Flu

Unfortunately, though, many of us don’t have enough of them. According to data from the General Social Survey (GSS), the number of Americans who say they have no close friends has roughly tripled in recent decades. “Zero” is also the most common response when people are asked how many confidants they have, the GSS data show. And adult men seem to be especially bad at keeping and cultivating friendships.

That may seem strange in the era of Facebook, Twitter and boundless digital connectivity. But the “friends” orbiting at the farthest reaches of your digital galaxy aren’t the ones that matter when it comes to your health and happiness.

The vital friendships—the pals you hug and laugh and lament with—are the ones who have the greatest impact on your health and happiness. You need between three and five of them for optimal wellbeing, suggests research from Dr. Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Oxford.

Dunbar’s name comes up a lot when you start digging into the subject of friendship. From his early work studying the brains and social circles of primates, he recognized that the size of a human’s social network might be limited by the size of a certain part of the human brain called the neocortex, a critical site for higher brain functions. After some complicated study, he came up with a figure now known as “Dunbar’s number.”

That number—usually cited as 150, but actually a range between 100 and 200—is the approximate size of a person’s social circle, or the perpetually changing group of friends and family members that you would invite to a large party. While you may have far fewer than 150 of these people in your life, your brain really can’t hold a close connection with more than 150, Dunbar’s research shows. Within that group, he says your closest 15 relationships—including family members or “kin”—seem to be most crucial when it comes to your mental and physical health.

But that’s not to say a brother or sister offers you the same benefits as a close friend, Dunbar says. While your kin are more likely to be there for you when you need help, your good friends tend to fire up your nervous system and trigger the release of feel-good neuropeptides called endorphins. Whether you’re laughing with your pal or feeling him or her touch your shoulder in sympathy, the resulting rush of endorphins seems to “tune” up your immune system, protecting you from disease, Dunbar explains.

So yes, for the sake of your health, you need friends—ideally the really close kind you see face-to-face on a regular basis. But even one very good friend can improve your life in profound ways, says Dr. Mark Vernon, a philosopher, psychotherapist and author of The Meaning of Friendship.

Despite their value in terms of your health and wellbeing, don’t think of them as your personal social doctors. Vernon warns against turning your friends into what he calls “service providers”—that’s not what friendship should be about, he says, even if your pals are good for you.

In the end, Vernon says Ralph Waldo Emerson may have offered the best advice when it comes to making and keeping close pals: “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”

Read next: 5 Types of Friends That Everyone Has

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TIME relationships

4-Year-Old Boy Gives His 90-Year-Old Veteran Best Friend ‘Friends Forever’ Dog Tag

The two developed an unlikely friendship

 

What started as an unlikely friendship between two neighbors grew into a beautiful bond.

The family of Emmett Rychner, 4, lived next door to 90-year-old WWII veteran Erling Kindem in Farmington, Minnesota, for the past decade, but only in the last year did Emmet and Erling become best friends, according to KARE 11. But then they were forced to split apart when Emmett’s family moved away and Kindem went into a retirement home.

That didn’t stop them from continuing to hang out. Emmett’s parents take him to the retirement home regularly and paid Kindem a special visit on March 1 to celebrate his 90th birthday, when the boy gave his older pal a present he’d never forget.

After singing “Happy Birthday,” Emmett pulled out two boxes, one for each other them. What was inside? Two dog tags, one reading “Emmett and Erling” and the other saying “Friends Forever.”

It all began when Emmett first became intrigued by Kindem’s tomato garden.

“Every time he saw me out there, he’d come running over,” Erling told KARE 11. “[Emmett would ask,] ‘Erling got any ‘mattoes?’ ”

From the beginning of their friendship, the pair has spent time together drawing pictures, riding bikes and lawnmowers and learning from each other.

“It is very special,” Emmett’s mom, Anika Rychner, said about their relationship.

When it was time for Emmett to leave the birthday party, Kindem said to him, “You come back again.”

“I will, eventually,” Emmett replied, and then went in for a heartfelt embrace. “Happy Birthday, Erling.”

This article originally appeared on People.com.

TIME relationships

5 Types of Friends That Everyone Has

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Because life is a journey we walk together through

The Comic Relief

Recently a close pal and I were both coping with very ill parents. There’s nothing funny about disease and dying, but for a whole year we compared notes in a humorous way. We each used hyperbole to describe our plights and made dark jokes about whose family situation was more depressing. We made fun to relieve our sadness (albeit temporarily), and that ability to make each other laugh helped us both get through the tragedy. Another good thing about a friend with a great sense of humor? She usually has warmth and compassion to spare.

Lucinda Rosenfeld is the author of four novels, including The Pretty One ($26, amazon.com) and I’m So Happy for You ($14, amazon.com). A former friendship and advice columnist for Slate, she lives in New York City.

The Life Coach

Because of our busy lives, I hardly ever speak to one of my closest friends. But it doesn’t really matter. When we do connect, without fail, she reinvigorates me. Her pep talks make me feel more hopeful about myself and my future. What’s more, my energizer friend is strong and tough, with a vigor for life I can feed off of. Through her example, she makes me more eager to achieve my goals or just keep tackling my everyday. Talking with her recharges my emotional battery until the next time we have a minute to pick up the phone.

Courtney Macavinta is the author of Respect ($16, amazon.com) and a cofounder of the Respect Institute, a nonprofit that offers youths the tools to build self-respect. She lives in New York City.

The Risk Taker

We all need an adventurous friend who nudges us out of the status quo—someone who introduces us to new ideas, philosophies, and activities that we might have otherwise not been exposed to or feared to explore on our own. I’ve long been inspired by a world-traveler friend whose preschooler’s passport has more stamps than most adults.’ She has helped me become less intimidated and more excited about traveling. In fact, thanks to her, my husband and I drove an RV across Canada two summers ago with our three children, who were all four or under. Scary? Yes. But we had so much fun, we’re going again this year.

Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and the author of The Friendship Fix ($16,amazon.com). She lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

The Challenger

One characteristic we underrate in a friend is the ability to be brutally honest. That’s why I’ve always admired the friendship of the women’s rights leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. They led very different lives. Anthony was single; Stanton, a married mother of seven. And they continually and vociferously argued about temperance, abolition, sexual rights, and suffrage. But because they were able to challenge and educate each other, they accomplished much for females in the United States. It’s also why they remained close, trusted friends for more than half a century.

Mary Ann Dzuback, Ph.D., is the director of women, gender, and sexuality studies at Washington University, in St. Louis.

The Loyalist

Every woman needs a “hot mess” friend—by which I mean a friend you can be a complete wreck in front of. This pal can drop in unannounced when you’re looking your worst. You haven’t showered and the house is a total disaster, but she won’t judge you. More important, she’ll let you be emotional when you’re at a low point. Recently I was at dinner with a friend when I got the call that I hadn’t landed a big acting job. I tried to pretend that it was no big deal, but she didn’t buy it. She said, “I’d rather you talk about being bummed than wear a fake smile all night.” And so I vented my frustration at not getting the job, and she really listened. We all need a friend who hangs in there even when we’re not at our best.

Ariane Price is a member of The Groundlings, a famed improv troupe in Los Angeles. She blogs about her life at Tales of a Real Hollywood Mom.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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TIME celebrities

See Taylor Swift and Karlie Kloss on the Cover of Vogue

Mikael Jansson—Vogue Karlie Kloss and Taylor Swift on the March 2015 cover of Vogue

Plus a BFF photo-shoot

Not all best friends get to pose together on the cover of Vogue — but Taylor Swift and Karlie Kloss aren’t like normal best friends.

Their Vogue photo shoot is full of painfully beautiful images of the most aspirational type of female friendship: cuddling in the sunlight, baking cookies and strumming on a guitar, taking selfies in a convertible, all wearing impossibly gorgeous couture.

“People had been telling us for years that we needed to meet,” Swift tells Vogue. “I remember makeup artists and hair people going, ‘God, she and Karlie would be best friends.”

Once they were introduced by model Lily Aldridge, the chemistry was instant. “We were just like, ‘You. My friend. Now,'” Swift says.

So what are they doing for Galentine’s Day?

TIME Friendship

5 Ways to Celebrate ‘Galentines Day’ Like Lelise Knope

No boys allowed

While Parks & Recreation’s Leslie Knope was certainly not the first to make a girl’s celebration out of Valentine’s Day, she did it best.

“Ladies celebrating ladies,” she says of her annual pre-Valentines day brunch. “It’s like Lillith Fair, minus the angst. Plus, frittatas.” And that mentality is totally consistent with Knope’s code: “hos before bros, uteruses before dude-erusus, ovaries before brovaries.”

So here are 5 great ways to celebrate Galentines day in the spirit of civic-minded, lady-loving Leslie Knope.

1) Make pancakes with your girlfriends to the soundtrack of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 “Glass ceiling” concession speech, then discuss women in politics over brunch.

2) Play women’s-only charades, including only books or movies written by or about women. Consider team names like “Geraldine Ferraro” or “Ruth Bader Ginsberg.”

3) Enlist your friends in a high-stakes poker game, and then donate the winnings to the International Rescue Committee, to fund a year of a girl’s education (only $58 bucks.)

MORE 8 Fun, Not-Cheesy Ways to Celebrate Valentines Day

4) Binge watch Broad City (another Amy Poehler project) and take a shot every time Abbi or Ilana choose radical acceptance over judgement or competition. Take two shots when Bevers does anything revolting.

5) Dance party. Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift only. No exceptions.

And no chocolate diamonds, under any circumstances.

Read next: It’s Better to Be Single on Valentine’s Day

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TIME women

I Was the Maid of Honor for a Girl I Bullied Mercilessly

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

I made her preteen life a living hell; years later I’d be walking with her family down the aisle

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“Fatty, fatty, bom, bom!” I screamed, and the other 12-year-old girls around me laughed hysterically.

We pointed, laughed some more, shouted out similar chants, as we ran around our school’s racing track. There were five of us, and our energy was focused on one girl, running alone, tears welling up and nobody to help her. She was our victim; she was no match for the collective energy of a group of self-appointed “cool girls.”

We let the girl overtake us on the track while we ripped her apart in private conversation.

“Her boobs look so weird, she can’t even run with them.”

“She got her period so young, there must be something wrong with her.”

As the girl continued running, boys from our grade walked by on their way to soccer practice. Perfect timing for us, as we watched them shame her body too, echoing our sentiment, validating that we had a right to our behavior. The girl, named Felicity, nickname Flick, continued running.

A lot of people assume that when kids are mean, they don’t really know what they’re doing; that they’re harmless, really. I knew exactly what I was doing, and I knew how it would affect Flick, because I’d been a victim of it for years.

From when I was seven to 13, I had no friends. None, absolutely none. And I wasn’t just left alone to quietly get on with life; kids made fun of me constantly. I had headgear (followed by all other kinds of lisp-inducing braces), horrendous granny-floral glasses and, best of all, warts. A ton of warts on my hands and arms.

Not only was I visually destined to be an elementary school outcast, but pretty soon my personality changed to fit the profile, too. I wouldn’t understand for many years later that people, particularly kids, absorb the identities they are given by others.

I subconsciously developed nervous tics, including counting everything I did in eights, right down to the pieces of toilet paper I used. I obsessively repeated whatever people said to me under my breath, over and over again until someone else spoke to me and I’d change the sentence.

One afternoon, aged 10 in the girl’s locker room (a place designed for bad things to happen) I became so frustrated with the other girls sharing inside jokes I wasn’t a part of, and so paranoid they were talking about me, I slammed the hairbrush I was holding onto the floor. It terrified the girls, only making them more inclined to shout “freak.”

It terrified me, because I felt like one.

So it was pretty great for me when Flick showed up in school. Finally, I wasn’t the biggest weirdo in town. I was pretty relieved everyone seemed to be bored of picking on me, and had moved on to something else.

In my school, tormenting others was the top social currency. I soon realized that not only did I need Flick to distract people from my own inadequacies, but if I joined in with everyone else, maybe I’d finally be accepted.

So there I was, chasing her around the running track, making her sob, breaking her down mentally, like there was no tomorrow. Like I didn’t know what that felt like.

The irony was, of course, I didn’t really like the cool kids. I had nothing in common with them, and they with me. The person I liked the most, if I was honest with myself, was this girl I made cry every day.

When we first met, at the school’s “Welcome Day” for new students, Flick seemed so comfortable in her own skin, so at peace with herself that she gave off a magnetic energy. She wore one of those Lizzie McGuire-esque rainbow tie dye tops, and pink jelly sandals (which I was obsessed with, and my parents never let me get). I’d never met anyone my age like that, and I so desperately hoped that she would overlook my shortcomings, and just like me.

I only stopped bullying Flick when a teacher forced me. The teacher was cool, young, and most of the preteen girls saw her as an older cousin. It made it all the more humiliating when we were made to apologize to Flick and reprimanded for our shameful behavior. Later, we discussed how we couldn’t believe Flick lied and said we were bullying her. She obviously wanted attention.

Too scared of punishment to go near Flick, the girls soon turned their cruelty onto me. I was so, very livid—hadn’t I proved myself to be just like them by now? What had all that effort been for?

Everything came to a head the summer before eighth grade when I was invited to a sleepover party with just a few of the girls. I picked out my clothes and PJs meticulously. Maybe I’d fool them into thinking I’d gotten cool over the summer.

That night, the girls were unrelenting. It became very clear that I was simply there because they weren’t allowed to watch TV past 9 p.m.

They took chocolate cake and wiped it over my face, and I let them. We played one game, I can’t remember the rules for it, but I ended up naked and they laughed at how I had no breasts. I was confused—hadn’t we laughed at Flick for having breasts? I took my things into a corner and slept backward in my sleeping bag so the hood would cover my face and they wouldn’t be able to draw things on me while I slept. They put my hand in a bowl of hot water so I wet myself.

When my mother drove me home the next day, I cried hysterically and wouldn’t tell her what happened. When school started the next week, it was very clear to the class that I’d been demoted.

It didn’t take long for Flick to offer to be my friend. She’d gotten herself some of her own by that point — other girls who’d been bullied, they were sort of forming a club — and they took me in. There were no questions, no conditions; I wasn’t reverted to the bottom of a food chain because with them there wasn’t one.

It turned out that not only did Flick and I have a lot in common, we were pretty normal teenage girls; boy-obsessed, emotional, big on daydreaming. We shared secrets, we made each other scrapbooks.

Once we took the train from our suburb into London by ourselves, without permission, and way too young. As soon as we we frolicked out of the station, I remembered my mom would be picking me up in half an hour from her house, so we frolicked right back onto the train. I thought we were the coolest girls in the world.

Years later and eating dinner at Flick’s house, her kid sister burst out, “Didn’t you used to bully Flick?”

As I sat, frozen in shame, Flick replied, “Yeah… how embarrassing for her!” She winked at me, a familiar expression. That night, I gave her a long-overdue apology.

“When it happened to me, I wanted to die sometimes,” I said.

“Yeah,” she replied. “I know what you mean.”

Fast-forward to today, and my best friend is essentially winning at life. She graduated from the University of Cambridge (yes, that Cambridge) after a year of volunteering in Uganda. She survived a motorcycle crashing into her in Kampala and now calls it a “funny story.” She was elected into a full-time job as the President of Cambridge’s Student’s Union. She got her nose pierced. She still loves rainbow-colored anything. She now works with a teenage girl with Asperger’s Syndrome as her classroom aid.

And last summer, I walked down the aisle as her maid of honor, and watched her marry a loving man who is her equal in kindness and strength.

I had boyfriends in school but I call Flick my “first love” because she was the first person in my life who chose to love me. I wasn’t her family; I was a girl who had made her life hell for a long time. Our lasting friendship continues to teach me the power women gain when we forgive and lift each other up.

In one of the scrapbooks Flick and my other first friends made me, I wrote a note in the back page to myself:

“These are the best friends ever, you are too lucky to have them.

Never take them for granted

Always treat them with respect

Love them for what they are — themselves.”

Charlotte Lait wrote this article for xoJane.

Read next: Bullying Is Good For Your Health

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME

Why Your Friend’s Weepy Wedding Toast Was Scientifically Accurate

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Manuel Orero Galan--Getty Images/Moment RF Marriage increases lifetime happiness, says new study

Marrying your best friend could help you live happily ever after

Finally Julia Roberts can get the scientific recognition she deserves. Turns out, she was totally right in My Best Friend’s Wedding: being married to your best friend actually does make you happy (sorry, Julia; congratulations, Cameron Diaz).

According to a study recently published in the National Bureau of Economic Research, married couples who said their spouse was their best friend reported significantly higher rates of life satisfaction than less friendly couples. About half of married or co-habitating couples said their partner was their best friend, and they get almost twice as much “additional life satisfaction” from the relationship than other couples. This finding was consistent even when the researchers controlled for age, gender, income, and health, and was still higher for married buddies than cohabitating couples who said they were best friends.

The benefit of having your spouse be your best friend was much higher for women than for men, but women were also less likely to say that their spouse was their BFF (perhaps because women tend to have lots of close female friendships, while men tend to have fewer).

Marriage rates have declined by almost 60% since 1970, and in 2013 the U.S. marriage rate was the lowest in 100 years (only 31.1 marriages per 1,000 married women). But according to researchers Shawn Grover and John F. Helliwell, who compiled the study on marriage and happiness for the NBER, marriage is strongly correlated with increased happiness, even in less fun periods of life like middle age (this is not to say that middle-aged married people are super happy, they’re just happier than unmarried middle-aged people). They found that even when controlling for the possibility that naturally happy people may be more likely to get married in the first place, marriage comes with a significant increase in life satisfaction. And that increase in life satisfaction endures past the newlywed phase and often result in increased happiness in the long term.

And while marriage is increasingly becoming a “luxury good,” more common among the rich and college-educated, Grover and Helliwell controlled for income in their research, which means that the well-being that comes from marriage isn’t the same as the well-being that comes from wealth.

 

TIME Research

What Your Online Persona Says About Who You Really Are

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Does who you are online match who you are in real life? A new study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows that avatars, the little icons you can customize in video games and Internet forums, are pretty good depictions of the people who created them.

Since more and more people meet and develop friendships and relationships online, researchers at York University in Toronto looked into whether the impressions people get from avatars, like the kind you use on Nintendo Wii and World of Warcraft, are true reflections of the real-life players they’re interacting with. To measure this, the researchers had about 1oo people create an avatar representation of themselves, and then asked nearly 200 others to rate the avatars on openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

The results show that traits like being outgoing or anxious are pretty easy to assess, but other traits like conscientiousness and openness to new experiences are more difficult. People with agreeable traits were better able to get their personalities across through their avatars than narcissists.

Katrina FongExample of avatars used in the study

Specific physical traits of the online characters helped translate personalities more than others. Smiles, brown hair, sweaters and open eyes were more likely to come across as friendly and inviting, compared to avatars with neutral expressions or those that didn’t smile. Avatars with black hair, a hat, short hair or sunglasses were less likely to come across as friendly or desiring friendship.

Interestingly, the people in the study didn’t seem to apply usual gender stereotypes to the avatars, though avatars made by females were rated as more open and contentious over all. The researchers speculate that perhaps the digital realm has gender stereotypes that differ from the ones we more commonly experience offline.

“The findings from this study suggest that we can use virtual proxies such as avatars to accurately infer personality information about others,” the study authors conclude. “The impressions we make on others online may have an important impact on our real life, such as who becomes intrigued by the possibility of our friendship.”

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