Those Facebook ‘Friends’ Of Yours Don’t Mean Much, Says Oxford Study

Facebook friends have become such a huge part of the modern social construct that some people give more value to the number of people they know on social media rather than the people they interact with in real life.

That is why words such as “friended” and “unfriended” have also become part of our everyday colloquy. Thanks to websites like Facebook, the term “friend” has lost much of its real meaning.

These sites are known to help people expand their social circles and gain new friends, which could also mean that they are likable as a friend.

However, a recent study by Oxford University begs to disagree.

The study, which was published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, shows that the number of “friends” on social media sites can be misleading. It states that despite the use of the term, most of these people are not likely to care or sympathize with a Facebook friend who is undergoing problems.

Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychology professor at Oxford University, conducted the study in order to discover the relationship between the number of Facebook friends a person has and the actual number of people he considers real friends.

In the study, Dunbar made a classification that claims that an average person can only have an average of 150 real friends, of which 50 are “good” friends, and about 15 “best” friends.

In addition, his classification also includes about 500 people as acquaintances. So how about the remaining thousands of other Facebook friends? Based on his study, Dunbar refers to them as “fake” friends.

And what about people who claim that they have more than 150 real friends? Dunbar does not believe it’s true. His “Dunbar Number” postulates that it is impossible for a person to have more than 150 friends.

So what’s the use of Facebook and other social networking sites for that matter?

In the report, rather than increasing the number of genuine friends, Facebook and other similar websites are just ways to lengthen the duration of “decaying” friendships.

“Friendships, in particular, have a natural decay rate in the absence of contact, and social media may well function to slow down the rate of decay,” said the Oxford University professor.

Dunbar also said that social media interaction alone is not enough to prevent friendships from dying, especially without face-to-face interactions like hanging out together, sharing a meal together, etc.

In an email to the Huffington Post, Dunbar said that making and maintaining friends can be very expensive.

“Creating friendships is very expensive in terms of time: to keep a friendship you have to invest a lot of time in the person, otherwise the friendship will inexorably decline in quality,” he said.

People use social networking sites so they remain connected to their friends of yesteryears, and so “catching up” can be easier.

However, the absence of physical interaction would eventually lead to a decay of the friendship, no matter how strong it may have been in the past.

Fortunately, technology has managed to come up with ways to delay the decline of friendship. Video calling online now enables friends to see each other “face-to-face,” which is an important factor in sustaining friendships.

In the same study, Dunbar also questioned 3,375 Facebook users in the United Kingdom and asked them how many Facebook friends were willing to go the extra mile to help them.

The survey showed that among the respondents, an average of only 4.1 people could be counted on in these times of crisis, whereas about 14 of Facebook friends would actually show sympathy and make an effort to reach out.

[Photo by Mark Von Holden/Getty Images]