The Link Between Relationship Orientations and Friendship Quality: The Mediating Roles of Social Goals and Resolution Strategies

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During adolescence, friendships become increasingly important to overall well-being, yet it is common for individuals to experience frequent conflicts with their friends. Theories relating to social cognition offer a framework to examine how adolescents think about expectations for reciprocity as well as goals and strategies in response to hypothetical conflicts (and how these social cognitions are associated with friendship quality).

Participants included 198 adolescents from 6th, 7th, and 8th grades from two racially diverse schools in a southern state. All participants had parental consent and provided verbal assent. They provided nominations of two same-sex best friends in their grade who attended their school and rated their perceptions of four dimensions of positive friendship quality for each. Participants also completed an exchange and a communal orientation scale (revised from adult versions) responding with reference to each of their nominated friends. Finally, participants read four hypothetical conflicts and were asked to imagine that they and their nominated friend were described. They rated the likelihood that they would choose each of a set of specific social goals and strategies in resolving conflict.

Hierarchical linear regressions examined whether adolescents' exchange and communal orientations predicted their perceptions of positive friendship quality. Moderated-mediation analyses examined whether individual differences in social goals and resolution strategies mediated the associations between exchange and communal orientations and positive friendship quality (and also gender differences).

Exchange and communal orientations had different associations with friendship quality. Choice of social goals appears to be one process through which relationship orientations are associated with friendship quality. Exchange orientation was not significantly associated with positive friendship quality. However, mediation models revealed that adolescents with higher expectations for tit-for-tat exchanges were more likely to endorse revenge goals which in turn were associated with lower friendship quality. In contrast, communal orientations were positively and significantly associated with overall rated friendship quality, suggesting the importance of reciprocity in meeting the needs of others. Finally, gender differences suggest that relationship orientations partially explain why adolescent males and females have qualitatively different friendships, and managed conflict differently. Limitations, implications, and future directions for analyses and research are discussed