Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Friendship and Regression Toward The Mean

So, recently I had some conversations with several people regarding where most people stood in their circle of friends. It became somewhat clear that for the most part, people tend to be pretty average compared to their friends. The conversations I had mostly had to do with wealth and power, but it could also be expanded to include intelligence or beauty.

There's a lot of truth to the maxims, Hot begets hot. or Money begets money.

It is fairly uncommon to be at the high end of your group of friends, and it is just as uncommon to be one of the have-nots in your own circle. Over time, you gain some friends and lose others. For the most part, you are more likely to shed those friends who are further from the mean.

Sometimes, it is only natural that your interests change as your status does. If you were to suddenly strike it rich, you might be more inclined to pick up sailing or start a fine wine collection. If you were to suddenly find yourself to be more physically attractive... say, you got a nose job, lost some weight, or perhaps underwent breast augmentation surgery, you might be more interested in being fashionable and more social. These changes in your interests will undoubtedly alter your circle of friends, resulting in both gains and losses. After all, you only have so much time.

But, maybe the alteration of your group of friends is not as natural as it seems. The bigger question, however, has to do with causality. I know that it's not purely black or white... but, let's talk about which of these holds more weight in explaining why most people tend to be fairly average in their circles.

a) You tend to be the average of your friends, because there is simply more overlap in interests.

b) You tend to be the average of your friends, because you are more likely to strive to be better if most of your friends are heads and shoulders above you and more likely to be content with your status if you are at the top of the pecking order within your circle. Ultimately, this leads to a stoppage in your growth, and you become quite average.

I do think it's a combination of both, but I think that if I had to choose, I think that the second reason wins out. There are so many things that you never even knew existed, yet after spending enough time with a certain echelon of society, you find yourself interested in these very things that you had no knowledge of beforehand.

As I reflect on my own past, I know that over time my group of friends has shifted... very much in line with my own growth. Frankly, I think it sucks that life works out this way, but it really is the way it works. Over time, you can't hang with the extremes of your group so much (maybe you can't afford it any more, or you just don't fit in any more), and so the extremes get trimmed. Those that were in your group that moved up above and beyond your upper bound tend to disappear from your life, and those that either moved down or from whom you moved above and away from also tend to disappear.

I know I've rambling, but I had several conversations about this, and I think it's an interesting topic. Let me know what you think.


Anonymous said...

I agree with your summation on the circle of friends. It is rare to find the extremes of wealth in a close friendship, aquaitences are different.

But behind wealth is the driver for separation being the intelectual capacity to generate it!

Therefore the gravity is not the wealth itself but the inherent ability to build/command it.

Some exceptions to this are people who inherit family wealth and scumbag politicians who steal it off the taxpayer to feather their own nests.


Anonymous said...

Money is a big part of it. You typically go and partake in activities with friends, and those activities are predicated by how much money you have. Even with generous friends who just pay for their poorer comrades, it's not fun to feel like a sponge.

As for people you spend a lot of time discussing things with, I think that's primarily intelligence. I don't think it's a coincidence that 99% of my friends are probably in the top 1-2% in the world in terms of raw brainpower, despite it seeming a little random while building those relationships.