We all love our friends. They crack us up, help us out in a pinch, and lend a shoulder to cry on in tough times. But according to science, no matter how much you appreciate your best buddies, you're probably underestimating exactly how much they contribute to keeping you sane and healthy.
That's the insight from new research into our primate cousins, chimpanzees, written up by evolutionary biologist Ben Garrod for Quartz. For the study, biologists followed a group of wild chimpanzees for two years, charting their social ties and periodically testing their urine for chemicals that indicate stress.
How to stress out a chimp and what happens when you do.
The researchers also wanted to induce particular spikes in stress -- the chimp equivalent of a truly terrible day at the office -- so they mimicked the sounds made by unfamiliar chimps close by the home territory of the group they were studying. Thinking that unknown, possible hostile rivals might be closing in, the chimp's biological markers of stress duly jumped.
But the scientists found one thing that helped these stressed-out chimps get through these trying episodes -- having lots of "bond partners," which is the scientific jargon for primate friends. And having lots of close social ties wasn't just good when potential enemies came prowling around. It produced measurable, beneficial changes in body chemistry continually. Garrod explains:
Social relationships appeared to limit stress all the time, not just in the most stressful situations. This suggests it is important for chimps to have "bond partners" with whom they regularly engage in friendly and cooperative behavior and rarely are aggressive towards.
It appears that both in and out of stressful situations, the daily presence of bond partners actually regulates the system that manages the body's hormones, reducing an individual's overall stress. While active support of a bond partner reduces glucocorticoid levels the most, their mere presence also leads to less stress.
So translate that into everyday English and what do you have? Good evidence that your close friends provide a meaningful buffer against stress, not just in tough times, but all the time, by physically changing how your body handles stress.
And your friends don't even have to do anything specific to help you to see these benefits, they just sort of have to hang out nearby. Viewed in that light, 'Netflix and chill' with your bestie isn't a waste of time at all.