In the 1990’s, evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, who is now at the University of Oxford, conducted a famous and controversial study which concluded that we only have 150 people we can actually consider friends. Over the course of a lifetime, being highly social animals, humans have far more contacts than that, but Dunbar concluded they aren’t all friends. They can’t even all be considered acquaintances. His belief was that the human brain can only handle 150 relationships at a single time, and despite some opposition to his findings, they were eventually adopted by most researchers in his field according to Scientific American.
The changes in the ways that humans interact with each other have been significantly altered since then. The rise of social media has given people the ability to connect with people they otherwise never would have met. It has allowed people to “collect” hundreds, thousands, and in some cases millions of friends and followers. Some social scientists believe that doesn’t actually translate to these people being genuine friends, while others wondered if many now, given social media, that the findings of Dunbar’s study needed to be reevaluated.
Only 150 of Your Facebook Contacts Are Real Friends https://t.co/zfPimkR0we | Scientific American
— Tomorrow's World (@future_db) August 27, 2018
Amid questions regarding if Dunbar’s study, several more studies mimicking it were conducted, and each reached a similar conclusion that the human brain can only effectively manage a certain amount of relationships at once. Consistently, that number was around 150, as reported at Scientific American. Dunbar also conducted his study again, taking into account the changes in human interaction since his initial exploration of the topic, and he again reached the same conclusion as he previously did.
Of the 150 meaningful relationships that our brain has the capacity to process at one time, he found the general breakdown for each person includes five intimate friends, 15 close friends, 50 general friends, along with acquaintances rounding out the 150 relationships we have at any time. This was upheld after studying several thousand Facebook users. Regardless of where the relationships had as a genesis point, it all comes down to brain size and chemistry.
If I asked you roughly how many Facebook friends or Twitter followers you have, you might be able to give me a good answer. But what about the shape of your social network and what it says about your brain? via @sciam: https://t.co/amRpdDMbx9
— Springer Nature (@SpringerNature) July 12, 2018
What needs to be considered about this is that it is not a hard and fast rule for every single person. Some have a lower capacity for maintaining meaningful relationships, and others have a higher threshold. Also, the grouping of people that make up the 150 meaningful contacts we have appears to be in a somewhat constant state of flux, with people moving into the group and out. Sometimes a contact will enter and exit the list over and over again depending on availability, as was reported at Forbes.