May 28th, 2016| Topic: RaMbLeS | 0


Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at Oxford, Robert Ian MacDonald Dunbar, has made a pronouncement you won’t like. Most of your Facebook friends aren’t your friends.

In a recent issue of Royal Society: Open Science, Dunbar contributed “Do Online Social Media Cut Through the Constraints that Limit the Size of Offline Social Networks?”

Our man was also the dude who came up with the Dunbar Number in the 1990s, correlating primate brain size and average social group size. Studying human brain size and extrapolating from primate relationships, he proposed that humans can comfortably—both in terms of cognitive ability and in terms of time needed—maintain only 150 stable relationships.

But back to fb …

Dunbar studied 3,375 fb users between 18 and 65 years of age. They had an average of about 150 friends (!), but only 4.1 were dependable and only 13.6 expressed sympathy with the user during “emotional crises.”

Respondents who had unusually large networks did not increase the numbers of close friendships they had, but rather added more loosely defined acquaintances into their friendship circle. Younger users are likely to have more Facebook friends, but older users tend to have more friends in real life. That is because social media encourages promiscuous ‘friending’ of individuals who often have very tenuous links.”

All that to say—if Dunbar is right—most of your fb friends don’t care about you and wouldn’t even sympathize with your “emotional crises.” Only those elusive 4.1 friends of yours are dependable, and only those 13.6 buddies of thine will weep with you.

There is a cognitive constraint on the size of social networks that even the communication advantages of online media are unable to overcome. In practical terms, it may reflect the fact that real (as opposed to casual) relationships require at least occasional face-to-face interaction to maintain them.”

And this lack of face-to-face interactions likely makes it difficult to invest deeply in relationships at a level that makes a friend “dependable,” and able to sympathize with one’s “emotional crises.”

The fact that social networks remain about the same size despite the communication opportunities provided by social media suggests that the constraints that limit face-to-face networks are not fully circumvented by online environments. Instead, it seems that online social networks remain subject to the same cognitive demands of maintaining relationships that limit offline friendships. These constraints come in two principal forms: a cognitive constraint … and a temporal constraint associated with the time that needs to be invested in a relationship to maintain it at a requisite level of emotional intensity.”

Well, it seems the Bible was right again!

A man of too many friends comes to ruin,
But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Proverbs 18:24

But having the right friends is important, even critical.

He who walks with wise men will be wise,
But the companion of fools will suffer harm.
Proverbs 13:20

The ones who are “dependable,” and who will sympathize with you in “emotional crises.”

A friend loves at all times,
And a brother is born for adversity.
Proverbs 17:17

And, of course …

Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.
Oil and perfume make the heart glad,
So a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend.
Iron sharpens iron,
So one man sharpens another.
Proverbs 27:6, 9, 17

As C. S. Lewis put it,

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art …. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.”

Let’s go give some value to survival!

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