According to a recent study by Oxford University professor of Evolutionary Anthropology Robin Dunbar, a human brain is limited to keeping up with about 150 meaningful relationships, regardless of how many Facebook friends you might have.
This is in line with Dunbar’s earlier research on the matter, in which he concludes that there exists a theoretical “sweet spot” for the number of relationships a human can effectively manage.
Dunbar arrived at this number in the 1990s by studying social groups from various societies across time — from Neolithic villages to modern-day corporate offices. The theory, appropriately named “Dunbar’s number,” states that the size of the human neocortex limits us to social circles of approximately 150 friends (“social circle,” in this case, refers to a circle of friends in which we know exactly how each friend relates to every other friend).
Throughout history, people have formed social groupings of about 150, as larger groupings quickly begin to deteriorate and lose social cohesion.
Dunbar is now taking his research further — to social networking sites — to see if the brain has expanded its ability to manage relationships. Initial research suggests the brain has not; Dunbar notes that even if a person has 1500 friends on Facebook, they will still maintain about 150 close relationships (this was evidenced by site traffic).
Other observations include a gender difference — girls are more capable of managing relationships through communication only, while boys need to do physical stuff together.
These are only the preliminary findings, though Dunbar does not expect that the age-old number will change — even with the advent of hyperconnectivity and social networking. The full study will be published later this year.
Interesting stuff, but I have to ask: Does anyone with 1000+ Facebook friends really think that means they have 1000+ real friends?