Friendship and your senses: 4 things you can only sniff out offline

  1. Sight: what someone really feels
    1. Emojis are fun - but they can mask what someone’s really feeling. You’ll have a much better idea of what’s going on inside someone’s head if you can see their face since our faces can display 21 different emotions through our expressions. Plus we’ve got an amazing range of micro expressions - they’re tiny flickers of emotion that don’t involve the whole face, and we often don’t even realise we’re doing it. Like if someone is angry but doesn’t want you to know it, so they smile - but their eyes don’t quite match it. Micro expressions can be tricky to spot because sometimes they last as little as 1/30th of a second! But at least in real life, you catch a glimpse - online you have no idea what someone’s face is doing. And it’s not just our faces - body language is a huge indicator of how we’re feeling and because it’s so instinctive it can often give away our emotions without us realising. For example, if someone’s feeling happy, confident and relaxed, they’ll probably move around more and use a lot of gestures - but if someone’s feeling shy and vulnerable, they might hunch their shoulders or cross their arms. All these visual clues help us know how people are feeling so we can respond in the best way - but they’re only possible in real life.
  2. Sound: what someone really means
    1. “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it” is a common complaint - someone might have used a pretty neutral set of words, but their tone implied something different. The inflections in your voice - how loudly, softly, quickly, or slowly you speak - all play a part in adding to the meaning of your words and letting people know what you’re really saying. Your tone of voice shows the attitude behind the words. Imagine if your friend told you to shut up. If they said it in a surprised tone, it’s more likely to mean “No way, I can’t believe that!” If they said it in a jokey tone, it’s probably just a playful response to something you’ve teased them about. And if they said it in an aggressive tone, you’d know they were really mad at you and wanted you to stop saying whatever you were saying. You can never be sure exactly what someone’s meaning is if you can’t hear their tone of voice, and when all you have is words on a screen you can be left a little clueless.
  3. Touch: how good a friend someone is
    1. For chimpanzees, touching and grooming are a form of social bonding - and humans actually aren’t much different! We might not pick fleas off one another, but most friends use physical contact to show their affection for each other - whether it’s a friendly punch to the arm, a quick hug, or a high-five. And when a close friend gives you a good hug or puts their arm around you, your brain responds by releasing a chemical called oxytocin. This makes you feel safe and warm and helps you and your friend feel more emotionally connected to each other. But the opposite is also true - if we never touch other people, we can start to feel quite lonely, anxious and even depressed. And your online friends may be great, but they’re not within touching distance, which makes it harder for you to feel genuinely close to each other. 
  4. Smell: whether to let someone close to you or not
    1. You might think it’s not a big deal that you can’t smell your online friends, after all, it sounds a bit gross - but someone's scent may have a lot to do with how close you could become. It’s a subconscious thing that happens without us even knowing it, but we’re actually drawn to people (or put off them) by the way they smell. And that’s because there’s a lot of information about our genetic make-up contained in our scent, and our noses are on the look-out for people who are genetically compatible with us, as we tend to feel more comfortable with those people and are more naturally happy and settled when we’re around them. Studies have been done that look at how genetically similar close friends can be, and it turns out you and your BFF probably have as much DNA in common as 4th cousins! But your nose can’t help you sniff out those kind of close friendships when you’re chatting to someone through a screen.