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Science Says You Need Mean Friends

Because sometimes you need to hear the truth, even if it hurts.

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I've noticed something happening fairly regularly among my daughter and her friends. When they're all sitting around asking each other which photo they should post on Instagram (because they do this), or when they're sending outfit pics around in a group chat asking which one they should wear (they do this, too), many of the girls will respond by choosing the worst picture and the least attractive outfit. Why? Because they're teenagers and jealousy is what they do.

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Every once in a while, though, there will be a girl who speaks the truth. The one who says "Your smile looks fake in the first pic," or "That second pair of jeans makes your butt look weird." Sure, these comments may at first seem kind of harsh, but they are real. And according to new research published in Psychological Science, they are coming from friends who truly care, the ones who aren't afraid to speak up and tell it like it is.

"We have shown that people can be cruel to be kind," explained lead researcher Belén López-Pérez. "They may decide to make someone feel worse if this emotion is beneficial for that other person, even if this does not entail any personal benefit for them."

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For the study, researchers recruited 140 adults to participate in a lab-based study that involved playing a computer game with an anonymous partner. The findings suggest that it was empathy (and not some type of inherent meanness) that led the participants to choose particular negative emotional experiences because they believed it would ultimately help their partner be successful in the context of the game.

"These findings shed light on social dynamics, helping us to understand, for instance, why we sometimes may try to make our loved ones feel bad if we perceive this emotion to be useful to achieve a goal," López-Pérez concluded.

In other words, the truth may hurt, but we all need a friend who is willing to give it to us.

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Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of two who writes about parenting and pop culture. Check out her website for more, and then follow her on Instagram