Creative Commons Image by Paul Burnett

The (Scientifically Determined) Limits to Friendship

on Wednesday, Jan. 8th

New research is proving out what you already suspect: all those Facebook “friends” aren’t really friends.

At least not in the “will be there when you need a ride to the airport” sense. As Emily Badger reports for The Atlantic Cities blog, researchers at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School.

Badger interviewed Felix Reed-Tsochas, a lecturer in complex systems at the University.

“It isn’t exactly that the computer has just done some amazing transformation of what humans are capable of doing socially, and that person now genuinely has 1,000 bosom-buddy friends,” says Reed-Tsochas. Most of those people are from the outer layers of the onion. Facebook (or Twitter or email) has certainly made it easier to stay in touch with these far-flung acquaintances, but it hasn’t fundamentally changed the number or depth of your relationships with the people closest to you.

Contrast this research with the concept of “Dunbar’s number,” which posits that we have an evolutionarily hard-wired upper limit on the number of people that we can maintain stable relationships with, even to the point of our being able to recognize them as distinct human beings.

Creative Commons Image by Paul Burnett

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