Psychological scientists Joseph P. Allen, Bert N. Uchino, and Christopher A. Hafen have discovered that an adult’s physical health is influenced by the quality of close associations he or she had in adolescence. Contrary to what is normally advised, efforts to conform to good peer relationships are associated with significantly better health in adulthood.

Analyzing Long-Term Friendships And Health Status

According to the researchers, peer relationships offer extremely emotional experiences in the life of an adolescent. Conformity to peer norms often occurs even if it accounts for some disadvantages on the part of the adolescent. Cross-cultural research demonstrates that a social interaction which emphasizes on the desires of one’s peers more than your own – which is the whole concept of conformity – is associated with reduced stress.

Essentially, the researchers proposed that ‘following the herd’ and establishing close, supportive associations in adolescence could help reduce stress-related health complications in adulthood. To test their hypothesis, a miscellaneous group of 171 seventh and eighth graders were followed from the ages of 13 to 27. At the start of the study, each individual nominated their closest friend, of the same gender, to be included in the study.

From the ages 13 till 17, each individual’s best friend completed a questionnaire analyzing the overall quality of their friendship, such as the level of communication, trust, and alienation. Information was also collected about how much the individuals focused on ‘fitting in’ with their peers. Their health quality was then analyzed every year between the ages of 25 and 27, using questions related with overall health, depression, anxiety, body mass index, medical diagnosis and any hospitalizations.

Deriving Conclusions: Childhood Friendships Can Predict Health In Adulthood

Surprisingly, it was seen that both, high-quality friendships and a struggle to fit in with peers were linked to a better health status at the age of 27. These results were obtained after taking into account potential variables such as income, body mass index and possible drug abuse.

“The results demonstrate that remaining close to – rather than separating oneself – from peer pressure in adolescence has long-term implications for adult physical health, such as decreased symptoms of anxiety and depression”, stated Allen, a researcher at the University of Virginia. “From the point of view of risk and prevention, difficulty establishing close relationships in early adolescence may now be considered as a marker for risk for long-term health problems”.

Future efforts promoting health quality should also focus on the importance of social relationships during adolescence, along with common aspects such as smoking and obesity, concluded the researchers. The research was published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.