In the early 1990s, a British anthropologist named Robin Dunbar argued that humans could not cope with more than 150 stable relationships based on the size of the human brain’s neocortex and the observations of other groups of primates that interacted. Now a team of researchers in Sweden claims that this number is two-story.
The team argues that Dunbar’s number – indeed a set of numbers that define different circles of intimacy and their size, most often citing the number 150 for casual friends – is not a reasonable way to decipher human sociality. Their study is published today in the journal Biology Letters.
The researchers conducted the same analyzes as Dunbar, but with new methods and updated data from the 30-year data set. They found that the average maximum group size among primates was actually lower than 150 individuals, but their number was in the bay of statistical uncertainty, which puts the actual number of group maximum sizes between two and 520 – can hardly be continued. .
“What we did was reproduce Dunbar’s original analysis, but with more data and updated statistics,” said Patrick Lindenfors, a zoologist at the Future Research Institute in Stockholm, in an email. “Our basic idea is that the 95% confidence interval is too large to allow any number to be given, as Dunbar did.”
Dunbar 150 really was the midpoint of the range; a person can have about 100 to 200 of these stable connections. But even this range does not correspond to the new analysis. Dunbar’s other factions were 1,500 (total number of people you can name), 500 (most acquaintances you could have), 150 (stable relationships, vague concept, which practically means people you have regularly social contact with), 50 friends but not your inner circle), 15maximum close friends), and then the elite five (or at least – these are your best friends and relatives). But Dunbar said there was a smoothness to those groupsс; the number may vary slightly and people coold deviate from them spheres.
According to Lindenfors, there is more than just biology that fuels our social capabilities; in other words, it doesn’t all come down to the neocortex and our innate tendencies as human beings.
“Most people who read this article know more than 20,000 words,” he said. “People learn all kinds of things. Why can’t we use this ability in social relationships? “
Dunbar invented his tricks in the nascent days of the World Wide Web. Since then, we have developed social networks that have reformulated what it means to be a “friend.” Previously, given Dunbar’s number, Wired checked with 1000 friends on Facebook, with some interesting (and mixed) results, reminding us how little one can interact with so-called friends on the social network.
“Culture affects everything from the size of social media to whether we can play chess or love tourism,” said co-author Johan Lind, a cognitive scientist at Stockholm University. release. “Just as one can learn to remember a huge number of decimal places in the number pi, our brain can be trained to have more social contacts.”
Of course, we have come a long way even since the dawn of social media. Maybe the pandemic reminded you of the relationships that matter most in your life, or helped you break up with friends for convenience. You may never want to see 150 people in the same video call again, much less in real life. Like many “rules,” Dunbar’s number may not hold up to the enormous diversity of humanity.
More ▼: Is Dunbar’s friend-limiting number still important in the Facebook era?