Moving to university harms school social circles, study concludes

A lack of contact and investment in old friendships can lead to the rapid deterioration of relationships formed in childhood

Moving to university destroys childhood friendships, an Oxford study has said.

The report, titled ‘Managing Relationship Decay’, has suggested that original social circles are detrimentally effected when students leave home to go to university.

Magdalen College’s Professor Robin Dunbar and colleagues were specifically interested in how relationships change when it becomes increasingly difficult to invest in them, taking a sample of 30 sixth form students from a school in the north of England and following them for 18 months.

They found that friendship groups rapidly deteriorated when people could not go home to see their friends regularly, with students losing 40 per cent of friends every six months.

Robin Dunbar told Cherwell: “We had not expected to find such a large turn over in friendships over the year away.

“This could all be attributed to the fact that other social opportunities became available, but also more importantly, directly to lack of interactions with friends.”

The findings showed that to keep friendships going at university it requires students to invest more heavily than before.

Online interaction is emphasised in the report. It suggests that relying solely on social media is not an adequate means of maintaining friendships as it does not provide adequate interaction and emotional support.

Dunbar also noted a “striking gender difference”, as it seems that relationship decline was prevented by talking more on the phone for females, but males needed physical time together due to the different ways in which the sexes form relationships.

University College first year Conrad Will commented: “I’ve definitely found that when I’ve gone home at the end of term I have much less in common with people I used to be reasonably close with.

I would say however, that this is less true of my ‘best’ friends who I’ve managed to remain in good contact with because I have consciously made an effort to talk to them. I think the combination of a small group of close school friends and new ones from university is good as it reflects your newly expanded horizons as well as your past.”

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Student Alex Buck said: “A lot of friendships are formed just because of close proximity, so if it is built on more than spending time at school together, it is more likely to last.”

Despite the apparent decline of friendships the study suggests that whilst at university, students become closer with family members.