Black and White Americans may receive different emotional benefits from friendships

March 8, 2023

Contact: Jon Meerdink ([email protected])


ANN ARBOR — Black Americans and White Americans may receive different benefits from their networks of friends, family ties, and other relationships according to a new paper.

Research from Crystal Ng, PhD, shows that while White American adults received a positive boost to their mood through interacting with their friends throughout the day, Black Americans generally received the same mood boost only from interacting with their romantic partners, extended family members, members of their church, and other people in their personal communities. Some younger Black participants in the study reported a similar benefit to their moods as White respondents generally did, but overall, the Black respondents in the study did not receive the same benefit from interacting with friends.

Ng, a postdoctoral scholar who has appointments at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research (ISR)and Michigan Medicine’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department, conducted her research by surveying 169 participants over the course of four days. The participants were asked questions about their interactions with friends and other people, and mood five times throughout the day. These responses were recorded electronically via a study smartphone provided to the participants. 

“The main finding is that interactions with friends were associated with momentary increase in positive mood, but only among White adults and selective age groups of younger Black adults (aged 41 or younger),” Ng said. “In contrast,  Black individuals, and not White individuals, showed an increased positive mood when interacting with all other social ties including spouses, extended family members, and other non-family ties, like church members.” 

The study was conceived in an effort to examine the potential limits that various elements of structural racism in American society may have on friendships among Black adults. Developing and maintaining friendships can take a great deal of time, effort, and resources, and minority groups may not have the same access to those resources as others, leading to weaker friendships.

Participants were from the Stress and Well-being in Everyday Life Study, conducted by Kira Birditt at ISR, which is part of the longitudinal Social Relations Study, conducted by Toni Antonucci at ISR. A spectrum of participants of different ages were recruited, ranging from young to older adulthood. They were asked whether they engaged in social interactions (with friends or other social ties) every three hours for four days and about their emotional experiences. Interactions included face to face, phone, texts, social media and email. But regardless of race, age, or how they interacted with their friends, the value of friendships came through in the study, and Ng believes governments and other policy makers should take note. 

“Friendship is a potentially modifiable social resource. Technically speaking, you can’t ask people to have more family members. But you can potentially encourage individuals to form more friendships or reach out to existing friends. So if governments and communities can devise or organize activities for people to interact with their friends or facilitate the formation of more friendships, that can be impactful.”

The full text of Ng’s study is available via the Gerontologist, the journal of the Gerontological Society of America (GSA). The GSA recognized the paper, which served as Ng’s doctoral dissertation, with its 2022 Behavior and Social Sciences Dissertation Award.

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