Cover image for Friendship : the evolution, biology, and extraordinary power of life's fundamental bond
Friendship : the evolution, biology, and extraordinary power of life's fundamental bond
1st ed.
Physical Description:
297 pages ; 24 cm.
A new science -- Fierce attachment -- Building a social brain -- Friendship under the skin -- Middle school is about lunch -- A deep wish for friendship -- The circles of friendship -- Digital friendship -- Born to be friendly? -- Deeply built into the brain -- The good life, revealed.
An engaging and deeply reported investigation of friendship: its evolution, purpose, and centrality in human and nonhuman lives alike. The bonds of friendship are universal and elemental. In Friendship, journalist Lydia Denworth visits the front lines of the science of friendship in search of its biological, psychological, and evolutionary foundations. Finding it to be as old as life on the African savannas, she also discovers that friendship is reflected in our brain waves, detectable in our genomes, and capable of strengthening our cardiovascular and immune systems. Its opposite, loneliness, can kill. As a result, social connection is finally being recognized as critical to our physical and emotional well-being. With warmth and compassion, Denworth weaves together past and present, field biology and cutting-edge neuroscience, to show how our bodies and minds are designed to make friends, the process by which social bonds develop, and how a drive for friendship underpins human (and nonhuman) society. With its refreshingly optimistic vision of the evolution of human nature, this book puts friendship at the center of our lives. --


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 158.25 DEN 0 1

On Order



The phenomenon of friendship is universal and elemental. Friends, after all, are the family we choose. But what makes these bonds not just pleasant but essential, and how do they affect our bodies and our minds?In Friendship, science journalist Lydia Denworth takes us in search of friendship's biological, psychological, and evolutionary foundations. She finds friendship to be as old as early life on the African savannas--when tribes of people grew large enough for individuals to seek fulfillment of their social needs outside their immediate families. Denworth sees this urge to connect reflected in primates, too, taking us to a monkey sanctuary in Puerto Rico and a baboon colony in Kenya to examine social bonds that offer insight into our own. She meets scientists at the frontiers of brain and genetics research and discovers that friendship is reflected in our brain waves, our genomes, and our cardiovascular and immune systems; its opposite, loneliness, can kill. At long last, social connection is recognized as critical to wellness and longevity.With insight and warmth, Denworth weaves past and present, field biology and neuroscience, to show how our bodies and minds are designed for friendship across life stages, the processes by which healthy social bonds are developed and maintained, and how friendship is changing in the age of social media. Blending compelling science, storytelling, and a grand evolutionary perspective, Denworth delineates the essential role that cooperation and companionship play in creating human (and nonhuman) societies.Friendship illuminates the vital aspects of friendship, both visible and invisible, and offers a refreshingly optimistic vision of human nature. It is a clarion call for putting positive relationships at the center of our lives.

Author Notes

Lydia Denworth is the author of Friendship, I Can Hear You Whisper, and Toxic Truth, and a contributing editor for Scientific American and blogger for Psychology Today. Her work is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and she lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Science writer Denworth takes a broad look at the origins and functions of friendship in her intriguing debut. Her focus ranges from animal behavior to neurobiology and from sociology to psychology and physiology. After speaking with many leading researchers, Denworth draws several striking conclusions--notably that, having been found in an extensive variety of species, friendship has deep evolutionary roots. This helps explain the large panoply of positive health benefits associated with friendship and, inversely, the dire medical consequences she reports as sometimes arising from loneliness. Denworth also examines the impact of virtual relationships and the increased use of technology by different generations, concluding that research demonstrates no net benefit or harm from social media use: "Friendship, real friendship, hasn't changed much. It is alive and well, even thriving." Her reporting is peppered with personal asides about how she and her family members have navigated various relationships. While this enlivens her work's more technical facets, it does potentially give the impression of putting anecdotal experiences on a par with evidence-based studies, thus undercutting the importance of the latter. Science enthusiasts may find Denworth's survey wider than it is deep, but it does provide an effective introduction to its subject. (Feb.)

Kirkus Review

Exploring the science of friendship.In the past few decades, friendship has become the target of studies by neuro- and social scientists who have established that seeking and building connections to others is essential for human survival. As Scientific American contributing writer Denworth (I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey Through the Science of Sound and Language, 2014, etc.) notes, the science has its roots in the studies of the mother-infant bond as well as the animal behavior work of Konrad Lorenz and others, later field studies of chimpanzees, macaques, and other primates, and, more recently, the work of primatologist Frans de Waal. Their observations can now be complemented by advances in technology. For example, near-infrared spectroscopy has been used to show that a section of the brain of a 5-month-old infant lights up when the baby sees a video of a mother playing peekaboo but not when viewing, say, an animated toy. The evidence from brain scans, genetic studies, and other physiological data underscores how social connectivity has been built into our systems; we demonstrate a "need to belong." Denworth traces this need over the lifetime, discussing the behavior of toddlers, preteens, adolescents, and adults. Of special interest is a second major growth spurt in the brain that occurs during puberty and features rapid growth in the emotional sections of the brain. At this time, scans show that the mere presence of peers lights up reward areas of the braina possible spur to impulsivity and risk-taking. (Most teenage driving accidents happen when friends are in the car and not when the driver is alone.) The author also discusses social networks and social media (not likely to replace face-to-face friendships). In addition to examining the scientific underpinnings of friendship, Denworth capably demonstrates how loneliness, an increasing hazard as Americans age and lose friends and family, is truly a health- and life-threatening condition, and there are things to be done to avoid it.Convincing evidence that evolution endowed us with a need for friends, support, comfort, stimulation, and, ultimately, happiness. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Denworth (I Can Hear You Whisper) argues that humans are wired for friendship, and that in order to thrive we have a biological need for connection. In a personable and accessible style, Denworth lays out her argument, exploring the biological underpinnings and the evolutionary history of friendship. Denworth takes readers along with her as she travels to the island of Cayo Santiago off the coast of Puerto Rico to learn about the complex social dynamics of rhesus macaque monkeys and to Los Angeles, where she spends time with older adults participating in Generation Xchange, a loneliness intervention program that pairs older adults with elementary school classrooms. In between, Denworth writes about the work of many scientists and their numerous studies, covering topics such as the connection between social relationships and mortality and the evolutionary advantage that friendship provides, all the while peppering her writing with tales of her own children and their friendships. VERDICT After reading Denworth's treatise on friendship, you may want to immediately call your best friend, or make a new one. Recommended for fans of human biology and nonfiction browsers.--Ragan O'Malley, Saint Ann's Sch., Brooklyn

Table of Contents

Introduction: A New Sciencep. 1
1 Fierce Attachmentp. 20
2 Building a Social Brainp. 43
3 Friendship under the Skinp. 65
4 Middle School Is about Lunchp. 91
5 A Deep Wish for Friendshipp. 116
6 The Circles of Friendshipp. 138
7 Digital Friendshipp. 163
8 Born to Be Friendly?p. 183
9 Deeply Built into the Brainp. 206
10 The Good Life, Revealedp. 229
Acknowledgmentsp. 253
Notesp. 257
Indexp. 279