Same-Sex and Opposite-Sex Best Friend Interactions among High School Juniors and Seniors

By Lundy, Brenda; Field, Tiffany et al. | Adolescence, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Same-Sex and Opposite-Sex Best Friend Interactions among High School Juniors and Seniors


Lundy, Brenda, Field, Tiffany, McBride, Cami, Field, Tory, Largie, Shay, Adolescence


Intimate friendship seems to be one of the most salient characteristics of adolescence, more so that in previous developmental stages (Buhrmester, 1990; Richey & Richey, 1980). A study that compared preadolescents with adolescents found that intimate friendship is more important to adolescents (Buhrmester, 1990). The study also noted that competence in peer relationship skills is a greater concern for adolescents than for preadolescents. A review of the literature on friendship revealed that children with close friends show better academic performance, are less likely to drop out of school, and have lower rates of juvenile delinquency and adult psychopathology (Parker & Asher, 1987). Reisman (1985) noted that the DSM-III-R uses lack of close peer relationships as a criterion for a number of childhood psychiatric disorders.

Preadolescent best friend pairs versus acquaintance pairs show more matching of positive behavioral states and experience lower stress levels during their interactions (Field, Greenwald, Morrow, Healy, Foster, Guthertz, & Frost, 1992). Few studies, however, have compared same-sex friendships with opposite-sex friendships for adolescents. Sharabany, Gershoni, and Hofman (1981) investigated changes in peer intimacy of same-sex and opposite-sex friendships during preadolescence and adolescence. A 32-item intimacy questionnaire, which assessed eight dimensions of intimacy (Sharabany Intimacy Scale), was administered to 480 Israeli schoolchildren in the 5th, 6th, 9th, and 11th grades. Half rated their same-sex best friend and the other half rated their opposite-sex best friend on intimacy level. Females reported a greater level of intimacy with their same-sex friend than did males. The intimacy scores for opposite-sex friends were low for both males and females in the 5th grade, but increased after that for females more rapidly than for males. By the 11th grade, the level of opposite-sex peer intimacy was similar to that of same-sex intimacy.

Although intimacy ratings provide information regarding the "comfort level" experienced in friendships, the inclusion of behavioral and physiological measures can provide additional information related to the level of stress during actual peer interactions. In a study using behavioral and physiological measures (McBride & Field, 1997), high school juniors were videotaped in same-sex and opposite-sex best friend pairs during a face-to-face conversation. The videotapes were rated for concordance of behavior states, saliva samples were collected to determine the subjects' cortisol levels before and after the interaction, and the subjects completed questionnaires in which they rated their interaction and the likability and characteristics of their partner. They were also asked to complete self-esteem, peer intimacy, depression, and anxiety scales. The most comfortable, playful interactions were found to be those between females. Females rated their same-sex interactions as more comfortable and their female partners more likable, and they engaged in more playful behavior together than did male-male or opposite-sex dyads. Although it had been anticipated that by their junior year these adolescents would be spending more time in heterosexual relationships and therefore rating them more optimally and showing more playful behavior, that did not appear to be true for this eleventh-grade sample. In terms of behavioral concordance, or synchrony, the adolescents spent similar amounts of time together in an interested state for both same-sex and opposite-sex interactions, and in an animated state for male same-sex pairs and a playful state (the highest level of intimate behavior on the scale) for female same-sex pairs.

The purpose of the present research was to determine (1) whether a "comfort level" similar to that of female-female interactions in a face-to-face situation had developed for male-male interactions one year later, and (2) whether females had come to experience the same level of comfort and matching of playful behavior in their interactions with males by their senior year of high school as they had experienced in same-sex interactions in their junior year. …

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