After 150, Facebook friends are meaningless

Jan 27, 2010 by Lin Edwards report
Facebook friends

(PhysOrg.com) -- According to Oxford University's professor of evolutionary anthropology, Robin Dunbar, after you have amassed 150 friends on Facebook, any more are meaningless because the human brain can only remember 150 meaningful relationships anyway. Professor Dunbar says this number applies to different societies and has remained unchanged throughout history.

In the 1990s Professor Dunbar developed a theory that the volume of the , the part of the involved with language and conscious thought, can only manage active relationships with around 150 friends — Dunbar’s Number — regardless of how many friends a person has either online or offline. On sites like Facebook, and Bebo, it is easy to collect 1,500 “friends” or more, but Dunbar said that when you examine the traffic, people maintain relationships only with an inner circle of no more than 150 people, as they do outside the online environment.

Dunbar reached the value of Dunbar’s number by studying a wide range of societies throughout history, including social circles from Neolithic and Roman times, to the modern office, and in non-human primates. The value of 150 is an approximation and there is no precise value, but Dunbar found that social groups larger than around this number tended to splinter.

Professor Dunbar’s findings are backed up by Cameron Marlow, a research scientist with Facebook, who said last year he had found Facebook users only communicate regularly with a small core of their listed friends.

In a study to be published later this year, Professor Dunbar applied his theory to Facebook to find out if Dunbar’s Number was exceeded in the online environment. To do this, he compared the traffic at the site of people with thousands of friends to those with hundreds or less, and found there was no discernible difference between them.

His findings suggest Dunbar’s Number is not exceeded, and the brain cannot expand its ability to have meaningful relationships with more people, even in the virtual world. Dunbar defined a meaningful as one in which you contact people at least annually, and in which you understand the relationships between the person and others in your circle of friends.

Dunbar’s findings also showed women were better than men at maintaining Facebook relationships, which Dunbar said suggested women could relate to friends just by “talking” to each other, while males need to “do physical stuff together.”

Psychologists warning that sites like produce insecurity through encouraging a “friendship addiction,” or an urge to amass a large number of to prove people are popular, will no doubt welcome Professor Dunbar’s findings.

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Explore further: New insights into eyewitness memory from groundbreaking replication initiative

More information: References:
Dunbar, R.I.M. (1992) Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates, Journal of Human Evolution 22: 469-493.
Dunbar, R.I.M. (1993), Coevolution of neocortical size, group size and language in humans, Behavioral and Brain Sciences 16 (4): 681-735.

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vantomic
5 / 5 (1) Jan 27, 2010
Dunbar reached the value of Dunbar’s number by studying a wide range of societies throughout history, including social circles from Neolithic and Roman times, to the modern office, and in non-human primates. The value of 150 is an approximation and there is no precise value, but Dunbar found that social groups larger than around this number tended to splinter.


So thats how dunbar came up with dunbar's number! But seriously, this sounds like bad science to me. 150 seems arbitrary.
Doug_Huffman
not rated yet Jan 27, 2010
150 beggars 'friend'. FB as cheapened friends from invaluable to trivial.
jonnyboy
not rated yet Jan 27, 2010
150 beggars 'friend'. FB as cheapened friends from invaluable to trivial.


WHAT????
ET3D
5 / 5 (2) Jan 27, 2010
Many Facebook friends are typically acquaintances or people you once knew, but don't really keep in touch with. So in one sense they're meaningless, if you're looking at meaningful relationships, but in another sense these people do have some meaning to you.
Doug_Huffman
not rated yet Jan 27, 2010
I wonder how many degrees of separation there is between me and thee, Jonnyboy, and at how many does 'friend' become moot.
x646d63
not rated yet Jan 27, 2010
I built an app that eliminates friends (with exceptions) if you have no interaction with them over a specified period of time (mine is three months.)

I have 148 friends remaining.
Caliban
1 / 5 (2) Jan 27, 2010
To the extent that maintaining a relationship requires the allocation of one's resources(time, at the very least) you can see that there would have to be a practical limit to the number of them that could be maintained in a meaningful way. Outside of work, I keep up about 30, if you include physorg. How about that.
KCD
not rated yet Jan 28, 2010
It is true that you CANNOT have more than that. Everything has its limitations in its own way like the human brain, it can store a lot of information but it cannot store nor expand more than it is capable of.