Stressful Times call for Emphatic People

In an era of nearly boundless online “friend” networks, Stanford researchers found that students are able to distinguish those real-life friends who are most able to help them deal with stressful times.

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Stressful Times call for Emphatic People
Stanford research shows college freshmen turn to one set of friends when they’re looking for a fun time but a different set when they need empathy. (Image credit: asiseeit / Getty Images)

During first-year at school, students recruit classmates and start establishing friendship in their dormitories.

But little do they realize how much choosing the right friends, especially emphatic people. Although a new study suggests, it could be beneficial during stressful times.

Profesor Jamil Zaki said, “The transition to college can be tumultuous. Whom you end up making friendships with can play a significant role in how you’ll deal with the stress and hardship of freshman year.”

“Whom you end up making friendships with can play a significant role in how you’ll deal with the stress and hardship of freshman year.”

The main goal of scientists was to discover which students occupied central roles in these different networks.

Managing stress is an important factor in a student’s success. According to 2008 poll, 40 percent of college students felt stress regularly and almost 1 in 5 seriously considered dropping out of school.

In this study, scientists involved 200 Stanford freshmen. They then asked to perform a battery of tests and answer some questions. Participants also answered questions related to social networks within their dorms, for example, “Who usually makes you feel positive?” or “Who do you turn to when something bad happens?”

Scientists found that individuals were more particular about whom they included in their trust networks compared to groups related to fun and excitement. In those selective trust networks, freshmen were more likely to include highly emphatic people.

Interestingly, when students wanted to feel positive and have fun, they were more likely to seek out emphatic people. Means students’ personalities are related to the different roles that they play in supporting their communities.

Jackson said, “What we find here is not only that people’s networks of fun-based friendships are denser than their more trust- and stress-based networks. But also that more central people in a network have personalities that match the purpose of that network in intuitive ways.”

It is like you need the right outfit for a particular occasion, college freshmen also require a right person for certain situations.

When you need a dose of fun, engaging with a positive and happy friend can lift your mood. But that friend may not be the best person to go to when you need someone to confide in. An empathic friend, on the other hand, may be just the right person for helping you through difficult and challenging times.

Sylvia Morelli, an assistant professor of psychology said, “Empathic individuals were more likely to help their dorm mates and provide support during difficult times. These freshmen became magnets for close relationships in their new dorms. Empathic people are the ears and shoulders of these communities.”

“The study offers an opportunity for college students to examine their own relationships, especially against the landscape of social media where they can have seemingly countless ‘friends’ across the country and the world. Our work suggests that people will turn to only a small handful of these friends when things get stressful and that they will trust their friends who show empathy and concern.”