Why Being Friends with Unkind People May Actually Be a Means of Protection

People, Friends, Mean

It’s no secret that people crave social acceptance and the feeling of belonging. We often strive to fit in with the “cool” crowd or the popular group, even if the people in that group aren’t all that nice. 

It’s a phenomenon that has been explored in various films, TV shows, and books, including the popular teen comedy “Mean Girls.”

However, a recent study has shed some light on why people might be drawn to friends who possess a bit of an attitude. According to research published in Elsevier’s Evolution and Human Behavior, making friends with unkind people could actually be a means of protection.

In the study, 1,183 individuals from both student and non-student communities in the United States and non-student communities in India were surveyed by researchers at Oklahoma State University. The participants were inquired about the characteristics they seek in friends and their preferences in selecting friends.

The results of the study were intriguing. While most people stated that they want friends who are kind and trustworthy, the research revealed that people sometimes prefer friends who are “more vicious” than they are friendly. This preference was especially evident when it comes to how friends behave toward their enemies.

The study suggests that since our friends often interact with others, both positively and negatively, there should be varying preferences for how our friends behave toward not just us but also toward other people. 

The researchers concluded that “the benefits of friendship depend, in part, on how much one’s friends value oneself relative to others, and thus that a friend’s behavior toward others can influence one’s own outcomes.”

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Protection from Threats

It’s interesting to think about why people might prefer friends who are more aggressive or unkind. The study’s authors suggest that it could be a way to protect oneself from potential threats. If your friend is willing to stand up for you and be “vicious” toward your enemies, you might feel safer and more protected.

Of course, it’s important to note that being friends with someone who is unkind or aggressive can also have negative consequences. It’s crucial to surround ourselves with people who treat us with respect and kindness, and who help us to be our best selves.

The participants were asked about their preferences when it comes to making friends and the qualities they look for in their friends.

The results of the study were surprising. While most people stated that they want friends who are kind and trustworthy, the research revealed that people sometimes prefer friends who are “more vicious” than they are friendly, especially when it comes to how friends behave toward their enemies. According to the study’s results, individuals tend to favor friends whose conduct leads to the maximum advantages of a friendship, including both direct actions towards oneself and indirect actions towards others.

Study Findings

The study’s findings are particularly intriguing because they suggest that unpleasant and ferocious behavior can be forgiven if it’s directed at an adversary, potentially offering protection. This might explain why some people are drawn to friends who possess an attitude, as these individuals might be perceived as being better protectors or allies.

Psychologists note that the findings of the study may come as a surprise, but they also observe that many friendship patterns and the kind of people we prefer as friends have their roots in childhood. The Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s website states that children who display unkind behavior may continue to be cruel even as adults, although this is not a certainty.

Meg Meeker, a pediatrician and author, was interviewed by Fox News Digital to share her thoughts on how parents can foster healthy friendship patterns for their children in light of the study’s findings. According to Meeker, although friendships among children can be intricate, adults are expected to encourage friendships that are characterized by kindness, trustworthiness, honesty, and some degree of altruism.

The findings showed that although individuals generally prefer friends who exhibit kindness and trustworthiness, they may also favor friends who are “vicious” towards their enemies rather than friendly.


Childhood experiences can shape our friendship patterns and the kind of people we prefer to be friends with. According to psychologists, individuals who display unkind behavior during their childhood years can continue to exhibit such tendencies as adults.

“Often, but not always, it was those frequently mean kids who became cruel adults,” per the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s website. Therefore, it’s crucial to create healthy patterns for kids when making friends.

Meeker commented on the study results and suggested that while childhood friendships can be complicated, as adults, people should aim to cultivate friendships that are characterized by kindness, trustworthiness, honesty, and a degree of altruism.

But this isn’t always the case, she added. Vicious friends can serve to keep one protected from harm. After all, why else would someone choose a friend with the tendency to be mean?

Meeker stated that today’s teenagers are exposed to higher levels of violence compared to previous decades, and it is often portrayed as glamorous. Gang-affiliated children are particularly susceptible to this phenomenon.

According to Meeker, violence towards others is now considered more normal than it was 20 years ago, and modern-day teens feel more isolated and vulnerable. When disconnected from the support and affection of their families or healthy friendships, they are attracted to those who will protect them by using violence against their enemies.

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Struggles of Children

In summary, kids tend to choose a friend who is more aggressive and willing to fight for them, rather than a friend who would avoid causing harm to others. However, this poses a problem as such friends may eventually turn their hostility towards their own circle. This highlights the vulnerable and dependent nature of children.

They are willing to take a chance that their vicious friend may turn against them to experience a sense of “protection” and care from that friend. According to Meeker, around 40% of American children suffer from depression, which often leads to self-hatred as a symptom. Teenagers suffering from depression tend to direct their anger inwardly without realizing it, as it is hidden in their subconscious mind.

It is logical to assume that children with a strong sense of self-contempt would be attracted to friends who do not genuinely care about them. They may feel more at ease with friends who have ill intentions, whether directed towards themselves or others.

Therefore, it is essential for parents and loved ones to be vigilant about their teens’ emotions and the type of friends they associate with, particularly when teens are struggling. It is crucial to avoid unhealthy friendships as this is the last thing that struggling kids need. As parents, it’s crucial to create a safe and nurturing environment at home where kids feel valued and loved.


Opinions expressed by Voyage New York contributors are their own.