Dunbar’s Number

Which is better: Lots of people you know or a few really close friends?

Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.

Here’s how it’s defined:

Working with the anthropologist Russell Hill, Dunbar pieced together the average English household’s network of yuletide cheer. The researchers were able to report, for example, that about a quarter of cards went to relatives, nearly two-thirds to friends, and 8 percent to colleagues. The primary finding of the study, however, was a single number: the total population of the households each set of cards went out to. That number was 153.5, or roughly 150.

I thought interesting.

For Dunbar, there’s a simple explanation for this: In the same way that human beings can’t breathe underwater or run the 100-meter dash in 2.5 seconds or see microwaves with the naked eye, most cannot maintain many more than 150 meaningful relationships. Cognitively, we’re just not built for it. As with any human trait, there are outliers in either direction—shut-ins on the one hand, Bill Clinton on the other. But in general, once a group grows larger than 150, its members begin to lose their sense of connection. We live on an increasingly urban, crowded planet, but we have Stone Age social capabilities. “The figure of 150 seems to represent the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuinely social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who they are and how they relate to us,” Dunbar has written. “Putting it another way, it’s the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.”  – Bloomberg

I think technology has greatly increased the amount of people we can know. People are inherently more accessible.

But still, there is a limit to the number of real relationships that one can maintain. There are only so many people that you can keep up with.

 

 

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