Don’t Listen to Dunbar, You Can Have More Than 150 Friends


According to something known as ‘Dunbar’s number’, humans can maintain stable social relationships with about 150 people.

Honestly, that feels generous. I don’t know about you, but it seems that as I get older, my friendship circle seems to become tighter. It’s less about party acquaintances and casual-job friends, and more about lasting friendships that bring value into your life. And I can’t imagine introducing approximately 130 more friends into my life right now (yes, I just decided that I have roughly 20 friends). 

Dunbar’s number is named after British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who proposed the theory in the ’90s. The number 150 is based on calculations of a person’s cognitive limit due to brain size and what we know about primate groups.

But now, thanks to a new analysis, that number has significantly grown. Apparently, we may be able to maintain up to 520 friendships at any one time.

“The theoretical foundation of Dunbar’s number is shaky. Other primates’ brains do not handle information exactly as human brains do, and primate sociality is primarily explained by other factors than the brain, such as what they eat and who their predators are. Furthermore, humans have a large variation in the size of their social networks,” Patrik Lindenfors, associate professor of Zoological Ecology at Stockholm University and the Institute for Futures Studies, and one of the authors of the study, said according to Science Daily.

When researchers recently repeated Dunbar’s analyses using modern statistical methods and updated data on primate brains, the results were both much larger and far lower than 150.

The average maximum group size turned out to be lower than 150 people, but the main issue was that 95% of confidence intervals for these estimates were between 2 and 520 people.

“It’s not possible to make an estimate for humans with any precision using available methods and data,” adds Andreas Wartel, co-author of the study. 

So basically, the science is telling us that we could have anywhere between two friends and 520 friends. I mean I guess that makes sense, with us humans having a huge variance in our social networks depending on an array of endless factors.

Way back when Dunbar’s number was first theorised, a number of other grouping were established. Dunbar hypothesised that people could name 1,500 people (yeah, I can’t do that), have 500 acquaintances, maintain 150 stable relationships, have 50 friends, 15 close friends, and five elite loved ones.

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