In the early 1990s, a British anthropologist named Robin Dunbar argued that humans cannot manage more than 150 stable relationships based on the size of the human brain’s neocortex and observations of other groups of primates socializing. Now a team of researchers in Sweden say that number is superimposed.
The team argues that Dunbar’s number – actually a set of numbers that define different privacy circles and their sizes, with the number 150 for casual friends being the most cited – isn’t a reasonable way to decipher the 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-old dataset. They found that the average maximum group size among primates was actually less than 150 individuals, but the number was in a chasm of statistical uncertainty, which put the maximum maximum group size number between two and 520. – hardly a fork to go.
“What we did was replicate Dunbar’s original analysis, but with more data and updated statistical methods,” said Patrik Lindenfors, a zoological ecologist at the Institute for Futures Studies in Stockholm, in a report. E-mail. “Our main point is that the 95% confidence interval is far too large to be able to state any number, as Dunbar did.”
Dunbar’s 150 was really the midpoint of a lineup; a person could have about 100 to 200 of these stable relationships. But this range also does not correspond to the new analysis. The other Dunbar groupings were 1500 (the total number of people you can name), 500 (the most acquaintances a person could have), 150 (stable relationships, a nebulous concept that basically means people you have regularly social contact with), 50 (friends, but not your inner circle), 15 (maximum close friends), then the five elites (approximately – these are your best friends and relatives). But Dunbar said there was fluidity in these bandss; figures may vary slightly and people could drift in and out of these spheres.
According to Lindenfors, it’s not just biology that underpins our social capabilities; in other words, it’s not all about the neocortex and our innate tendencies as human creatures.
“Most people who read this article know more than 20,000 words,” he said. “People are learning all kinds of things. Why couldn’t we use this ability on social relationships? “
Dunbar came up with his numbers in the dawning days of the World Wide Web. Since then, we have developed social networks that have reshaped what it means to be a “friend”. Previously, with the Dunbar number in mind, Wired checked in with 1000 Facebook friends, with interesting (and mixed) results, reminding us of how much toddler can interact with so-called friends in a social network.
“Culture affects everything from the size of social media to whether we can play chess or whether we like hiking,” co-author Johan Lind, cognitive scientist at Stockholm University, told a university. Release. “Just as someone can learn to remember a huge number of decimal places in the number pi, our brains can be trained to have more social contact.”
Of course, we’ve come a long way, even since the dawn of social media. Perhaps the pandemic has reminded you of the relationships that matter most in your life, or has helped you separate yourself from friends of convenience. Maybe you never want to see 150 people again in the same video call, let alone in real life. Like many “rules”, Dunbar’s number may not hold up in the face of the immense diversity of humanity.
After: Is Dunbar’s Friends Count Still Relevant in the Age of Facebook?