My Three Favorites
ForewordA recent informal query concerning my own favorite among the papers I have published on personal relationships stimulated an interesting exercise in self-confrontation. Although I had never really considered the matter, once I heard the question, I almost immediately thought of three articles that, at one time or another, I would have called "special." From my perspective as retiree, however, it would be difficult to identify which of the three is now my single career-long favorite. Each filled an important gap for me in the sense that, in its time, it represented the culmination of my grapplings with a relatively circumscribed set of issues. Therefore each article was, and is, special for its own particular reason. What follows is a chronological listing of those favorites, including in each case a citation, the abstract as published, and a commentary explaining why it is a favorite. These comments are broad-gauged, personal and informal. I will gladly honor requests for details, documentation and citations from anyone interested in having them.
The Big Three
- A Model and a Technique for Studies of Friendship
- Toward a Theory of Friendship Based on a Conception of Self
- Self-referent Motivation and the Intrinsic Quality of Friendship
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 5, 295-309 (1969)
A Model and a Technique for Studies of Friendship
University of North Dakota, USA
Studies of attraction, due partly to an overemphasis upon the antecedents of attraction, have yielded little conceptual grasp of specific dyadic relationships such as friendship. A model for the study of same-sexed friendships is presented which attempts to establish: (1) a criterion of friendship (Voluntary Interdependence); (2) a dimension concerned with the degree of difficulty two friends have in maintaining the relationship; and (3) some of the direct rewards of friendship (Stimulation Value, Utility Value, and Ego Support Value). A technique for measuring the various components of the friendship model is presented, along with a summary of the research involved in its development and testing.
To fully understand my delight with this publication, one would have to have a genuine "feel" for the depth of my disillusionment with the way social psychologists were exploring interpersonal relationships prior to the time I formulated the friendship model. That disillusionment started in the early 1960s with several vague misgivings that cropped up intermittently while I was working on my dissertation on person perception and interpersonal attraction. For the most part, I was able to set the misgivings aside, continue my research in the way it was done in those days, and complete my doctoral studies on schedule. However, as I continued studying interpersonal relationships, my concerns resurfaced and became more clearly defined. Eventually, I published several articles that were critical of the way many social and personality psychologists explored attraction. I was by no means the only nor the first observer to note the flaws I thought I saw, but those flaws had not (I thought) been identified and articulated in a sufficiently attention-getting manner. The flaws were: 1) narrow, weak or (often) non-existent conceptual analyses of the relationships in which attraction was assumed to take place; 2) broad, undifferentiated and curiously uninformative measures of the presumed dependent variable (i.e., interpersonal attraction); and 3) artifact-prone procedures for combining and analyzing sociometric and dyadic data. As the upshot of these flaws, I concluded that, overall, the study of attraction had left us with (to quote myself) "numerous pieces of information, an indeterminant amount of misinformation, and little conceptual grasp of any particular kind of dyadic relationship... ."
Having clarified for myself what I saw amiss in the study of interpersonal attraction and having achieved a sense of closure by publishing my concerns, I was faced with the problem of where to turn next as a research social psychologist. I came close to abandoning research on relationships in favor of returning to an earlier interest in the less fascinating but more manageable topic of persuasion and attitude change. For several reasons, however, I decided to stay with relationships, but with qualifications. First, I would forget about trying to tackle the whole realm of interpersonal relationships and concentrate on one particular relationship within that realm. Second, related to this, I would forget about studying interpersonal attraction per se as if the various manifestations of "attraction" were all of a piece regardless of the relationship in which one observed it. Third, my relationship of choice for concentrated study would be friendship. There were several reasons for choosing friendship. First, I had a strong personal interest in the topic. Second, I thought social scientists had done a particularly poor job of identifying and exploring the characteristics and nuances of friendship as a relationship in its own right. Third, I thought essayists, novelists, poets, journalists and philosophers often did a superb job of conveying a sense of those characteristics and nuances, but not in a way amenable to systematic empirical investigation. At that point, I set out to develop a "scientifically respectable" conceptual scheme for exploring friendship that gave due attention to its uniqueness and complexity as appreciated by essayists (etc.) as well as by the everyday "person on the street." The first published outcome of that effort was the present article.
Although I was unaware of it at the time, I now realize that several other social scientists were thinking along the same lines. It must have been in the Zeitgeist. Moreover, I think it only fair to note that I recently came across an article1 in an obscure Spanish-language journal that was way ahead of all of us with respect to the topic of friendship. In 1953, Puerto Rican educational psychologist Efrain Sanchez-Hidalgo published a paper on friendship that anticipated most of what I said in 1969 and a number of other things that I didn't get around to until much later. I will gladly honor requests for an English translation of this article.
As dictated by continuing research on substantive as well as conceptual and methodological questions, the original friendship model and technique underwent periodic elaborations, including a certain amount of application to relationships other than friendship. Even so, the basics remained intact and the work culminating in my 1969 article set the tone for my scholarly efforts throughout the remainder of my career. My first paper on friendship, then, must go down as one of my personal favorites.
1Sanchez-Hidalgo, E. (1953). La psicologia de la amistad. Pedagogaia, 1, 1, 96-117.
Human Communication Research, 4, 196-207 (1978)
Toward a Theory of Friendship Based on a Conception of Self
University of North Dakota, USA
The present theory of friendship is based on a conception of self that regards a central motive to be the person’s concern for the well-being and worth of the entity (s)he identifies as self. This concern manifests itself in tendencies to affirm one’s sense of individuality, affirm one’s more important self-attributes, evaluate one’s self positively, and change toward positive self-growth. Friendship involves investments of self in a relationship characterized by the partners’ voluntary interdependence and personalized concern for one another. The investment, entailing expenditures of time, personal resources, and personalized concern yields dividends experienced concretely as a partner’s self-affirmation value, ego support value, stimulation value or utility value. Several facets of friendship growth and development are considered, including the degree to which the relationship is difficult to maintain.
By the mid-1970s, a sufficient number of studies utilizing the friendship model had been published that it was fairly well known. Moreover, continuing research had already prompted some elaboration entailing the addition of two new variables. It was not long, however, before different colleagues-at-a-distance voiced closely related criticisms of the model. A prominent social psychologist, writing in his role as a journal editor, pointed out that my so-called model was not really a model. That is, the components of the model were neither derived from nor systematically related to any coherent underlying conception of anything. Therefore, the concepts comprising the model were "free-floating" and lacked any "sense of definitiveness or necessity." On a related point, two highly regarded attraction researchers referred to the model in an article on then-current developments in the study of attraction. Their bottom-line judgment was that my approach was counterproductive because attraction research had little to gain from the ad hoc proliferation of variables. I regarded these kinds of criticisms as basically well-taken but overdrawn and somewhat unfair. Considering the kind and amount of work that went into the model and its expansion, my selection of concepts and variables was not as arbitrary as it may have looked from the outside. Nevertheless, to be quite honest about it, these critics had hit on a point about which I had long felt uneasy. The model, consisting of (as I once admitted) "merely of a handful of interesting variables," lacked the structural and functional integrity that would (hopefully) be provided by more clearly defined theoretical underpinnings.
At this point, I decided to explore the most productive way to build an overarching model, beginning with what I had learned about friendship so far. For reasons that are recounted elsewhere, I was soon convinced of the importance of self-reference in understanding the meaning and significance of friendship. Therefore, I took time off from the study of friendship per se and delved into work on self psychology. This effort culminated in a perspective on the psychology of self published under the less than surprising title, "A perspective on the psychology of self." This perspective specified a set of self-referent motives providing what I considered a sound conceptual base from which to derive the aspects of friendship specified in the original friendship "model." In fact, once formulated, the perspective led to the addition of an important "friendship value" that had not been identified previously. By this time, scholars interested in attraction were beginning to make useful strides in exploring the course of interpersonal relationships over time. Combining my perspective on the self with others' insights related to the temporal dimension of relationships resulted in the theory of friendship presented in the "favorite article" under consideration here.
For me, publication of this paper represented both a point of closure and a fresh start. It was a point of closure because I regarded it sufficiently comprehensive and internally consistent to be a useful vehicle for analyzing and "really understanding" friendships rather than (as with my earlier efforts) just a working model. It was a fresh start because I could now pursue substantive studies in friendship more confidently, i.e., without the nagging feeling that I was working from a theoretical base that was both less complete and more arbitrary than it could and should be.
of Social and Personal Relationships, 1,
Self-referent Motivation and the Intrinsic Quality of Friendship
Paul H. Wright
University of North Dakota, USA
Some observations suggest that friendships are developed and maintained because they involve some form of reinforcement or interpersonal reward. Other observations suggest that friendship has an intrinsic, end-in-itself quality making it unnecessary, if not contradictory, to assume that friendships must be rewarding to be formed and maintained. The present paper outlines a model of friendship based on a conception of self and self-referent motivation. The model represents, in part, an effort to reconcile the observed rewardingness of friendship with its intrinsic, end-in-itself quality.
Let me set the tone for my explanation of why this article is one of my favorites by issuing a disclaimer. I am not, nor have I ever been, an advocate of exchange theory or its spinoffs (equity and investment theory) as applied to personal relationships. Indeed, the only reference to exchange theory in my own earlier articles was a brief statement disavowing its relevance for my work on friendship. Therefore, it was a bit disconcerting when, by the early 1980s, my friendship model was sometimes cited as an application of the exchange orientation. This was usually done with matter-of-fact acceptance and tacit approval, but in at least one case with definite disapproval. My friend and colleague Keith Davis took serious umbrage with the "exchange" implications of my emphasis on the rewardingness of friendship, noting that such an orientation contradicted my proposition that friendship involves the partners' mutual "personalized interest and concern." Steve Duck and others associated with the founding of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships agreed with me that the identification of my model with exchange theory was misguided and invited me to write a (hopefully) clarifying article for the first issue.
This is, of course, not the place to launch a frontal attack on exchange theory nor to detail its lack of fit with my own model. The lack of fit is, in fact, what the favorite article under consideration is mostly about. Suffice it to say that there is only one broad and superficial similarity between exchange theory and my model of friendship: both acknowledge the importance of rewards or "benefits" in personal relationships. However, they differ markedly on their conceptions of what makes those rewards rewarding. And equally important, they are based on entirely different conceptions of what those rewards mean relationally and how they play out in ongoing relationships.
Was the article successful in doing its clarifying work? Well, at least partly. Keith Davis decided my model was okay, removing one source of Maintenance Difficulty from our ongoing friendship.