A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has found that feelings of jealousy can be a useful device to strengthen and maintain bonds with friends during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The study is a collaborative effort between Arizona State University, Hamilton College and Oklahoma State University.

According to researchers, the lack of friends has been linked with a larger risk of succumbing to heart disease and with becoming ill due to viruses. They also found that feelings of envy during the current times were associated with the value of friendship, and also encouraged behaviors that sustain friendships.

Jaimie Arona Krems, co-author of the study, said in a statement, "Friends aren't just fun. They are an important resource, especially in our current situation with ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks. Friends give support during conflict, buffer against loneliness, and can even provide life-sustaining resources when we need them." She added, "We wanted to understand how we keep friendships, and we found feelings of jealousy can act like a tool for maintaining friendships."

Intensity of Jealous Feelings Vary

Friends
Friends (Representational Picture) Maxpixel

Not all threats to friendships evoked jealousy. If a best friend moved away, people felt sadness and anger more than jealousy. But when friendships were threatened by another person - such as a new romantic partner or new friend at work - jealousy was the dominant feeling. The intensity of jealous feelings varied by how likely the third-party threat was to replace someone in the friendship.

A best friend gaining a romantic partner elicited less jealous feelings than them gaining a potential new friend, revealed the study. "The third party threats to a friendship were not just related to a best friend spending time away from us: It mattered whether the person they were spending time with could replace us as a friend," said Douglas Kenrick, President's Professor of psychology at ASU.

The authors found people felt less jealous about their best friend spending the same amount of time with a new romantic partner than a new acquaintance, "which means what makes us most jealous of is the possibility that we might be replaced".

Jealousy Leads to Better Commitment to Friendship

Feelings of jealousy over being replaced were associated with behaviors that could overcome the third-party threats, like trying to monopolize a best friend's time and manipulate their emotions. "Together, these behaviors are called 'friend guarding', and they occur across cultures and also in non-human animals. Female wild horses are known to bite and kick other female horses," said Keelah Williams, assistant professor of psychology at Hamilton College.

Jealousy also led people to commit to being a better friend. "Getting jealous can sometimes be a signal that a friendship is threatened, and this signal can help us jump into action to invest in a friendship that we might have been neglecting," said Athena Aktipis, assistant professor of psychology at ASU and author on the paper.

(With inputs from agencies)