Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How many friends -maximum- could we have? Real friends? Virtual friends?

Robin Dunbar and his book How many friends does one person needs? From

First of all, let's begin with the definition of Dunbar's number, from
"Dunbar's number is suggested to be a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person. Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar's number. It has been proposed to lie between 100 and 230, with a commonly used value of 150.Dunbar's number states the number of people one knows and keeps social contact with, and it does not include the number of people known personally with a ceased social relationship, nor people just generally known with a lack of persistent social relationship, a number which might be much higher and likely depends on long-term memory size.
Dunbar's number was first proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who theorized that "this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size ... the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained." On the periphery, the number also includes past colleagues such as high school friends with whom a person would want to reacquaint oneself if they met again."

Robin Dunbar. From

Robin Dunbar, author of  How many friends does one person needs?, keeps the number in 150, even in social networks as Facebook, where some people has hundreds of  "friends". That's a difficult thought. On one side, we have John Calhoun's experiment on rats, the survival number was 150. A curious coincidence.
On the other side, it is said that some people have "real"  virtual friends, those that can become friends by everyday contact or eventual personal contact. Let's give an example: I live far from my all life friends; I made new friends in a social network living closer to me, sharing the same experiences; one day some virtual friend meets me, while I can't meet my " real"  friends for long years. Or, the virtual friend opens the possibility; suddenly, I know his/her history.
And what's a friend? A feeling? A behaviour? You are my friend WHILE I feel you are my friend.
But Dunbar goes farther. You should personally know the real social network of your friend. And, you can't extend it more than 150, approximately. His thesis is that there's a rate based on our brain cortex' s size. If we want to extend the number, we should wait for many years of brain's evolution. On the contrary, small primitive brains, had less social networks or friends.
I'm not sure about it. I'm not an anthropologist, but primitive tribes around the world gathered huge quantity of members. Maybe Dunbar wouldn't consider them friends? Just a question. Too much psychology for me.

From the interview to Robin Dunbar, by Aleks Krotoski:

What does your work tell us about the way we interact socially?

The way in which our social world is constructed is part and parcel of our biological inheritance. Together with apes and monkeys, we're members of the primate family – and within the primates there is a general relationship between the size of the brain and the size of the social group. We fit in a pattern. There are social circles beyond it and layers within – but there is a natural grouping of 150.
This is the number of people you can have a relationship with involving trust and obligation – there's some personal history, not just names and faces.

And this is is the Dunbar number! How did you come up with this concept?

I was working on the arcane question of why primates spend so much time grooming one another, and I tested another hypothesis – which says the reason why primates have big brains is because they live in complex social worlds. Because grooming is social, all these things ought to map together, so I started plotting brain size and group size and grooming time against one another. You get a nice set of relationships.
It was about 3am, and I thought, hmm, what happens if you plug humans into this? And you get this number of 150. This looked implausibly small, given that we all live in cities now, but it turned out that this was the size of a typical community in hunter-gatherer societies. And the average village size in the Domesday Book is 150 [people].
It's the same when we have much better data – in the 18th century, for example, thanks to parish registers. County by county, the average size of a village is again 150. Except in Kent, where it was 100. I've no idea why.

Has this number evolved at all?

The Dunbar number probably dates back to the appearance of anatomically modern humans 250,000 years ago. If you go back in time, by estimating brain size, you can see community size declining steadily.

In my humble opinion, the anthropologist has only a theory. Let's see if he can definitely can prove it.

 This book grew out of a series of articles he published in the New Scientist and The Scotsman
Read more about Dunbar's thesis:
Read more about Dunbar's book:

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