Although people can have more than 1,000 friends on Facebook and other social media, apparently, the capacity human beings have to maintain a friendship limits, on average, to maximum 150 people. This number is known as the “Dunbar number”, named after a British anthropologist Robin Dunbar.
At 67 years old, Dunbar who is a professor at Oxford University is one of the most important scholars of evolutionary psychology worldwide. According to the interview he gave to a Brazilian site Veja.com, this number has been stable since the dawn of humanity and hasn’t changed even with the popularization of social networks.
In nature among primates, the number of friends is determined by the size of the brain. The larger the brain, the greater the individual’s ability to establish bonds of friendship. Monkeys, for example, maintain a restricted community of 50 members – for them, it is a formula of success.
For human beings, the number is 150. One of the first studies done on this subject took place in 1993, when a group of scientists, including Dunbar, asked a number of British families to send Christmas postcards to their friends. In the end, they discovered that it was approximately 150 people that received the postcards. They included friends, family, colleagues and neighbours.
According to Dunbar, the frequency in which we see our friends and interact with them in real life is what truly makes up a friendship. Apparently, we invest about 40% of our social time into meeting up with our five closest friends, and about 60% into meeting up with our 15 closest friends. If a new friend comes into our lives, it means that some other friend, with whom we don’t have much contact, lost their place in our group of 150 friends.
In Dunbar’s view, sharing personal information with people we don’t really know creates a false sense of friendship. Facebook and other social media have significantly changed the way we connect with people we know, and have created a false impression that we have many friends. In this case, according to Dunbar, even Skype is a better way of communicating, as it somehow mirrors a real relationship we would have with a person.
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