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Friendships and Fertility

This is how I saw the information first: Trying to maintain too many friendships can affect your fertility according to a study out of Oxford University.  Robin Dunbar conducted the research, as in the Dunbar of Dunbar’s number fame that I’ve written about before.

But we haven’t gotten to the really interesting part.  There was one study that followed 30 teenagers, but publications presented the study in two very different ways.

The Guardian, for example, focused on the ways men and women maintain friendships:

Men need to meet up face-to-face and bond over activities, according to the study of students leaving home for the first time, while for female friendships, long phone conversations can bridge the physical distance.

Whereas the Mirror focused on a very different finding from the study: your fertility.  They even used the title to promise fertility to anyone who has five close friends (Women Can Boost Their Fertility “By Having a Core of Five Best Friends”).

Same study.  Same 30 teenager participants.  Same presentation of the research at a conference.  Two vastly different articles.

I only found one other article about the presentation that straddled both facets of the study: The Telegraph.  That publication started with the focus on how men and women maintain friendships and then continued with Dunbar’s statements on infertility.

(Yes, I’m aware that it sounds like he is emphatically blaming stress for all infertility, but let’s ignore that for a moment since I can’t find a transcript of the actual presentation.)

The idea of different outlets presenting the facts differently is nothing new; one only needs to turn on MSNBC and Fox News’s coverage of the same event to experience that.  But what I found interesting is that instead of assigning meaning to a single quote or action, the news sources chose to focus on two very different aspects of the same study, basically leaving out the other side’s point in their coverage.  In the Guardian’s world, infertility isn’t part of the study, and in the Mirror’s world, Dunbar wasn’t focusing on how men and women experience friendship.

The mainstream news sources solely presented or led with the information about friendships, and the tabloids clearly appealed to our fears by focusing on fertility.  At this point, the media coverage is infinitely more interesting than the study itself, but if anyone tracks down a copy of the transcript from the presentation, I’d love to read it.

File this under Take Everything with a Grain of Salt.


1 Jess { 02.26.17 at 9:53 am }

Hmm, that is interesting. I liked the Guardian article, probably because I can see this in-person vs phone contact thing with upkeeping friends in my husband — he hates the phone, so if he can’t get together with someone the friendship fizzles. Also it had nothing to do with infertility.

The second article I found to be batshit crazy. The focus on stress, and then this weird juxtaposition of “a core group of FIVE close friends” but then “Having TOO many friends can negatively impact fertility” and then this bizarre sense that how many friends you have can have ANY impact on your fertility at all because of the behavior of primates, who don’t have the complexity of social media (and are probably better for it) and live in much larger and yet more intimate peer groups. I felt like having FIVE close friends in a group sounded like a lot. Maybe the quality of your friendships reduce stress (if that’s really a thing) more than the number, and that should have been discussed. There was a real vague mention to the phone-vs-in-person thing between men and women in the Mirror article.

Fascinating to see such different treatments of the same study (and a combining it with the primate study in the fertility article). I really dislike the Mirror one, though, for the way it talks about infertility. My menstrual cycles were disrupted by a medical diagnosis of PCOS, not because of the too-many or too-few nature of my friendships. Argh. (I did not succeed at the Grain of Salt, clearly.)

2 Working mom of 2 { 02.26.17 at 11:01 am }

Disclaimer – I didn’t read any of the articles or the study. But at first glance it seems that this study was done on teenagers – – in general, very fertile group. In other words, no applicability to grown women. Just more bullshit to make infertile women feel bad and people who are not going through infertility to think it’s no big deal it can be solved easily.

3 Cristy { 02.26.17 at 4:41 pm }

Wait, is this the same research study or different ones. I took away that it’s the same one, but different news outlets spun it differently.

If it’s the same one, this illustration from PhD comics summarizes the whole thing nicely: https://m.tapastic.com/episode/18523

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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