Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
9 Mar

Are Humans Hard Wired For A Limited Social Circle?

socialnetworkDespite growing insight into neuroscience and the physical limitations of our consciousness, we have the tendency to ascribe a limitlessness to our minds. We readily accept the existence of certain boundaries in the material world, like fences, social stations, rules, laws (of physics and of states), or physical characteristics (“You must be this tall to ride the roller-coaster”), but when it comes to the inner world – the mind, our memories, our imagination, our cognition, and our social skills – we have trouble conceiving of real mechanical limits. When a word eludes us, playing about the periphery of our cognition (“tip of the tongue”), do we complain about faulty hardware? When we forget that cute girl’s name we just met at the party, do we blame the lack of available short-term memory data “chunks”? It’s only through neurological research that we’re even “aware” of the bioelectric interplay that is our thought process; in general, in everyday existence, we don’t think of our thoughts and our emotions in cold, mechanistic terms. We simply think, remember, feel, etc., without getting all meta about it.

Yet it’s clear that there are physical limits to our minds. The consensus on short-term memory, for example, is that most people are limited to retaining just seven items at once, or seven chunks of data – a physical limitation, hard wired into our brains. What if we were similarly hard-wired to effectively manage a limited number of personal relationships? It seems plausible. If memory has a corresponding physical capacity, why wouldn’t other functions of the brain?

Dunbar’s Number

Primatologists have often noted that non-human primates live in “grooming cliques,” tight-knit social groups of varying sizes where grooming is the means by which the members socialize and stay tight-knit. The number of members in a non-human primate grooming clique aren’t randomized, but rather dependent on the size of the particular primate’s neocortex region of the brain. Greater volume is associated with a higher companion threshold. Primate species with bigger brains tend to have larger social groups.

A British anthropologist named Robin Dunbar figured the same principle ought to apply to all primates – human and non-human alike. In 1992, using the predictive value of neocortex size, he was able to accurately predict average group size for thirty-six species of monkeys and apes. He then followed suit (abstract) for human primates and came up with a human maximum “mean group size” of 150 and an “intimate circle size” of 12. Hypothesis in hand, he then compared his prediction with observed human group sizes, paying special attention to the anthropological literature and reports from hunter-gatherer societies. The homo sapien brain developed around 250,000 years ago, so looking at hunter-gatherers was his best bet for approximating the social behaviors of Paleolithic ancestors.

For the most part, his predictions held true. The upper limit for human social cohesiveness was groups of about 150, and this tended to occur in situations involving intense environmental or economic pressure – like war (Roman maniples contained around 160 men) or early agriculture (Neolithic farming villages ran about 150 deep, and 150 members marked the point at which Hutterite settlements typically split apart). Any higher, and it’d be too costly and require too much social “grooming” to maintain the group.

The hunter-gatherer existence self-regulates tribal size, really. Too few members make hunting unfeasible (as fit as he was, Grok wasn’t taking down a buffalo by himself, let alone lugging it back to camp), and foraging becomes more effective the more hands you commit to the task. A HG group had to be mobile and lean, able to follow the game when it moved. It had to be socially cohesive; people had to coordinate hunts, forage outings, and divvy up food. A large, ranging, sloppy group would mean more weak links, and in a social framework where every member was integral to the success of the whole, it simply wouldn’t work out. As we see with the Hutterites, a hunter-gatherer tribe that got too big for its britches would simply become two hunter-gatherer tribes rather than languish and fail.

(Overstepping Dunbar’s number might also increase stress. We clearly see that in farm animals. Increasing group size past optimal levels increases damaging behavior indicative of stress: feather pecking in hens and tail biting in pigs. No, we are neither pigs nor chickens, but we’re still sensitive to our environments.)

Okay, so there appears to be a limit to the number of people with whom a single person can maintain stable, rewarding relationships based on the size of the neocortex. This isn’t a time constraint thing here. If Dunbar is right, it’s an actual self-limiting brain mechanism forged 250,000 years ago that persists today. Agriculture no doubt pushed the limits by forcing us into crowded villages, but it’s only recently that our social networks have undergone another, even more drastic shift in size and composition: social media.

Facebook, Twitter, even regular old email are all forcing us into novel areas of social networking. We aren’t living in villages or tribes or bands. We’re running into childhood friends from thirty years ago. We’re getting text messages from twenty different acquaintances on a single day. Are we equipped to handle this sort of thing? Are we negatively impacting the quality of our social interactions? Are we spreading ourselves too thin? (See Dunbar’s take here.) Or does the new media allow us to transcend, or tinker with, previously immutable biological limitations? Maybe. I’m reminded of how working memory (a theoretical concept that’s beginning to replace short-term memory in some circles, working memory describes the temporary storage of information for immediate cognitive tasks like learning, reasoning, and calculating). As with short-term memory, most people are limited to seven or so “chunks” of working memory data. A chunk might be a single digit, a single word, or even a concept, but a few people can use advanced encoding techniques to expand the scope of each chunk. Where one person might be able to repeat seven digits from normal working memory, another might encode each chunk to include sequences of four or five numbers. This allows them to remember seventy numbers instead of seven, and they’re using the same brain stuff as everyone else. The neurological bandwidth hasn’t increased – their brains don’t physically grow larger – but they utilize the available bandwidth with greater efficiency.

Maybe Facebook and other social media offer the chance to make greater use of the available “socializing chunks” in our brain. Like with working memory, the seven chunks of available bandwidth are always going to be there, but it’s what you put inside that matters. Perhaps tools like Facebook allow us to “store” information on friends and family without taking up valuable mental real estate. I don’t think that’s “good” or “bad.” Hell, the reason we developed the written word was to avoid having to remember minutiae.

Maybe we still adhere to Dunbar’s number without really paying attention. I mean, it’s easy to tally Facebook friends into the thousands without actually knowing them. Adding a friend is almost an afterthought; is it really harmful, stressful, or contrary to our evolutionary social framework if we add an old acquaintance to our friend list and then never speak to them?

Problems arise, I think, when the virtual social network displaces the tangible one. Chatting online or through email is different than face-to-face interaction. Everything is calm and measured. There’s little room for incidentals, mistakes, or awkward pauses. You lose the physical contact and the body language cues. Emoticons can never replace emotive expression. As long as we maintain physical contact with friends, family, and loved ones, using online or virtual tools to augment the “real” relationships can only be helpful. Last week, for example, I met up with Brent Pottenger and Aaron Blaisdell, two regular commenters, in person. We established an online relationship, which has transitioned into an “actual” real world social network. PrimalCon is another great example. Without MDA there wouldn’t be a PrimalCon to bring this virtual community together in person. The Primal Blueprint is all about merging evolutionary truths with modern technology; it’s about cherry picking the best stuff from past and present.

Social media allows us to overstep our neurological social sphere boundaries. When it comes to diet, sunlight, sleep, stress, and physical exertion, I think we agree that sticking to ancestral, evolutionary precedent is the best policy, but that doesn’t have to apply to social networks. I guess I’m cautiously optimistic about the use of “social supplements” like Facebook or email. Overstepping our natural bounds is essentially what makes us human, after all. We just have to be smart about it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Hit me up with a comment and thanks for reading!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. first?

    shastagirl wrote on March 9th, 2010
    • yay! i dunno about anyone else but i dont enjoy a huge social circle myself. i have my select few people i like to hang out with. i feel uncomfortable in large crowds.

      shastagirl wrote on March 9th, 2010
  2. This is why national politics is such a zoo (well, one of many reasons). Trying to squeeze 300 million people into the same homogeneous group does not, and will not ever work.

    Chaohinon wrote on March 9th, 2010
    • That is really good enough reason to peruse political ideologies that value local decision making over centralized control. Ironically the very same people who bemoan our loss of liberty consistently work toward nationalizing more and more. Local control is liberating and also very primal.

      chris wrote on March 9th, 2010
  3. This is the kind of well-sourced anthropological theorizing that hooked me on this site and kept me here until I went totally ape for the Primal Blueprint.

    Having immersed myself in online media at the tender age of 12, and still pecking away 12 years later, I definitely agree that online social interaction is a pale shadow of the real thing. But then, the quality of people you meet that way is far better than random geographic chance.

    Thanks, Mark, for some intriguing ideas to ruminate over today!

    Timothy wrote on March 9th, 2010
  4. Interesting, I just took a look at my Instant messenger contact list at work 152 contacts. Coincidence?

    Kev wrote on March 9th, 2010
  5. I deleted my facebook about a month ago because it was becoming more stressful than fun. I felt like it made me feel like I had to “keep up with Joneses” and compared myself to people from my past. I realize thats not necessarily the problem of facebook in general, but I have been feeling SO much better since I deleted it! There is a reason that so many of my “facebook friends” weren’t still my friends in real life, I’d rather stick to real life personally :)

    Tara wrote on March 9th, 2010
    • Tara, with people who have more virtual friends than real and are updating their facebook status every nanosecond, you are definitely in the minority, in a good way. There is research to point out that keeping your cell phone with you all the time and wearing it around your waist can increase stress levels and negatively effect androgen levels.

      Kishore wrote on March 9th, 2010
      • I can totally understand the cell phone research! I went to Nigeria for two weeks and couldn’t bring my cell phone (for obvious reasons) and at first I was like, what am I going to do without it?? Then after a day or two, it was a RELIEF! I loved that people couldn’t just get a hold of me whenever they pleased! It was liberating.
        I do, however, have an iPhone now (technology OVERLOAD much??) but I’ve learned to balance how much time I spend on it and will sometimes just turn it on silent and stick it in my purse when I need some peace and quiet!
        Not all online socializing stressed me out (obviously not MDA!) and I find that online social interactions surrounding positive things, such as good health, exercise, working through emotions, and the like is much easier for me to digest! I just couldn’t deal with all the negatives on FB, not to mention the gossip, snide statuses and less than appropriate pictures. I think the internet is great, but just choose not to partake in sites that stress me out :)

        Tara wrote on March 9th, 2010
        • I agree with both of you 100%. There are millions of people who are constantly on facebook, updating there status, adding 100 pictures, this and that. Most of them end up stressed out because they spent so much time on the damn internet!

          Unfortunately, my mother just got onto facebook. I say this for now (unfortunately) because for the first 1-2 weeks she was on it for possibly 5 hours a day on average. She is on it much less now, but damn…

          I have contemplated deleting my facebook as well. But, I now understand how to use it to my advantage and not waste my time with it.

          Cell phones are definitely a stress system! I may get an iPhone too, but it would be for my business. I can’t wait to visit somewhere where cell phones are not allowed!

          Todd wrote on March 9th, 2010
        • I got rid of my myspace. and i dont go on facebook that much. I am debating of getting rid of fb. I don’t get cell service at my parents house so when i go up there nobody can reach me unless though email. :) its wonderful

          Angie wrote on March 9th, 2010
        • I haven’t deleted my FB but frequently tell people who ask to be added that I’m rarely on the site. I think I’ve got almost 500 contacts because I’ve moved a bit and had quite a few social circles. It is stressful for me too so I just avoid it mostly but check in from time to time.

          “I can’t wait to visit somewhere where cell phones are not allowed!”
          Most of the places I’ve gone camping the reception is non-existent. Maybe spend a few more weekends in the woods? :)

          CriQue312 wrote on July 26th, 2010
    • I just had the same conversation with my husband last night. I’m ready to delete my Facebook profile because I find it more stressful than good. I feel a bit guilty when I can’t keep up with what everyone is doing.

      Danielle wrote on March 9th, 2010
  6. Great article Mark!
    I’m tweeting it to my lists.

    @Chaohinon I completely agree with your statement about politics. In reality, it is impossible to have one human “represent” large groups of individuals, with their widely varying needs, wants, tastes, and preferences.

    I think we are moving into a new age of how societies are organized, more of a bottom up approach rather than governmental top-down, one-size-fits all.

    Cheers.

    Kevin wrote on March 9th, 2010
    • “In reality, it is impossible to have one human “represent” large groups of individuals, with their widely varying needs, wants, tastes, and preferences.”

      With the thoughtful study and factual rationales employed, I’d vote for Mark! He may not know exactly how I feel on every issue, but he’s capable of searching for healthy wisdom and that’s what matters most to me anyway.

      CriQue312 wrote on July 26th, 2010
  7. I’ve been an early adopter of various technologies, but did step back for a few months recently to determine where I wanted to invest my hobby time and get the most bang for the buck.
    Going Primal for me has been great because it helped direct me and I learned so much add’l info online and through making online associations having to do with Primal.
    Tomorrow night if anyone is interested, I’m putting together the first PrimalChat on Twitter. I emailed Mark and he gave the blessing. He’s unable to attend, unfortunately, but it still a valid time for us all to participate, provide information and ask any questions that folks may have. To “participate” use the hashtag #primalchat. The “event” will start Wednesday, tomorrow night, at 8 PM CST. If you have any questions, just email me at jpickett1968@gmail.com. We’ll just see how it goes and if received well enough, we can make it a weekly occurrence and help gain some critical mass for living Primal. I’m excited about it and hope you can attend.

    Jeff P (P stands for Primal) wrote on March 9th, 2010
  8. For a hilarious explanation of Dunbar, read David Wong’s Monkeysphere:
    http://www.cracked.com/article_14990_what-monkeysphere.html
    (Warning: some NSFW words, and a few jokes that could be considered…adolescent)

    FuriousMittens wrote on March 9th, 2010
  9. Great article!

    I work in technology and find myself turning the electronics off when I get home from work to avoid overload.

    I think capacity for using the tools is somewhat dependant on when you are exposed to them. It also presents a “double-edged sword” scenario as well. Kids take to new technology like little sponges, but it is a major danger to their long term well-being if the use of technology stunts their real world social growth. I do presentations for parents on how to keep their kids safe online, and a lack of real world socialization is a very real danger that I highlight.

    Agatsu wrote on March 9th, 2010
  10. Thank you, thank you, thank you Mark for this article! I’ve often thought myself an oddity because my friend network is so small. I added up those that jump to mind as true friends and it came to 10! I’ve often wished to be that outgoing, gregarious person with tons of friends and eased through them all… But it isn’t that way at all! I actually go through my facebook once in a while and delete people that I’m just not connecting with. I only want people when I care to read about their life (or those that, for family political reason, I must keep). If you post updates and I don’t care I delete you. And it actually makes me crazy when I know there are too many people there!!! I do this with my blog reader as well. I get overwhelmed with the numbers of it sometimes.
    Even online it feels like social interactions that demand time and energy. I’ve yet to meet someone online that I’ve developed a lasting friendship with. I guard my social energy and I’m picky about who I let into my circle. I’m also always aware when someone needs to be culled and have no problem doing so.
    But, now, see I don’t feel like such a freak. Now I get that I’m just one of those that has a tight circle and don’t like to live in big tribes:)
    So, thanks!

    Jenn wrote on March 9th, 2010
    • I’ve yet to meet someone online that I’ve developed a lasting friendship with.

      I’ve been lucky in that regard, for I met “the love of my life” who has become my dearest friend, through the comments section of a [now defunct] blog we both used to frequent. Without the internet, I would never have met him, which is kind of sad, because we fit so well together, and he is a very smart, intelligent, kind, funny, and very giving person who lived on the other side of the world. Perhaps, there is someone within the five miles radius from where I live who is just like him; the internet allowed me to cast my net a helluva lot wider.

      redcatbicycliste wrote on March 9th, 2010
      • I certainly wasn’t bashing online relationships! I’ve met a few people that I keep in contact with; my point was more that I, personally, haven’t developed a true hardcore relationship. I read blog where people talk about the great friendships they’ve made through blogging and I attempted to make friends as well but it never happened. My only point was that I, personally, am guarded enough that it takes a lot to make friends and I simply used the internet as a referense point.
        Heck, I have a friend that met her now husband on World of Warcraft:)

        Jenn wrote on March 10th, 2010
  11. Paul Graham wrote an essay that addresses many of the same points as this post. It’s really good: http://www.paulgraham.com/boss.html

    Matt wrote on March 9th, 2010
  12. According to Eric Jensen’s brain research blog, the number of “chunks” that we can have in mind is not seven, but actually two to four. He cites the work of Corwan, et al. Link is below:

    http://www.jensenlearning.com/news/working-memory-time-for-a-research-update/brain-based-teaching

    Mark wrote on March 9th, 2010
  13. My favorite post so far. I am biased having killed my Facebook account and having ate the bird (Twitter) this year…an interesting experiment that has prompted more email and phone calls from friends than any previous FB or Twitter update.

    Frankly, “…stable, rewarding relationships…” are difficult to manage and maintain. They require work and sometimes difficult conversations. But are they worth it? Absolutely.

    PS. I don’t feel out of touch with any my friends…in the least.

    Rob wrote on March 9th, 2010
  14. This is a fiery topic for me, since I lost all real-life interaction with my circle of about 10 friends when World of Warcraft online came out. (They just gamed night and day for about a year, year and a half. I’d already lost several months of my life to Diablo II, and I’ve long since decided I don’t want to waste what I’ve got hunched in front of a monitor until my eyes glaze over.)

    Comment boards are about the only good use of social media that I have found, mostly because I can hunt for friends amongst people that I know have similar interests (or they wouldn’t be on the board).

    Anyone else feeling lonely in the sunlight?

    BusyBee wrote on March 9th, 2010
  15. I don’t have a huge social network. I have very few close, intimate friends. I tend to ‘see’ people with a huge social network as ‘working’ others and usually don’t have any ‘best’ friends — very generally speaking — but rather lots of acquaintances. I think we are built for close, personal relationships but that those are rare and special. Very interesting topic Mark.

    Sterling wrote on March 9th, 2010
    • To play devil’s advocate here, sometimes having a huge social network is a good thing. “Working” others is a skill that can be very important and critical, especially in business.

      I, like you, have a very few people that are my friends TBH. However, I am friends with people who have huge social circle. One of my friends, I swear he knows people EVERYWHERE. He has some of the best people skills of anyone I have ever met, and he’s only 23. At this point, he could pretty much go anywhere and do anything, assuming he wants to. He does have close friends and very close friends, but also has a ton of very important and useful acquaintances.

      I agree with the article though. The people that are much happier and seem to lead more fulfilled lives tend to have very close and very intimate relationships with a small number of people who they can truly rely on, and vice versa.

      Fury22 wrote on March 9th, 2010
  16. Wow,
    This was such a good article. I am a facebook member, and boy do I struggle with it. It causes me stress as well. If you have too much time on your hand, it becomes very addicting. The hard part is, sometimes their is good that comes from it. Interesting observations, posts, etc. But for the most part, its time consuming and frustrating to see the same people talking about their lives all the time. Its as if, they don’t have anyone else to talk to, so they update their statuses. Jeez, I dunno. I’ve deleted some people, including family members that just talk too much politics or religion, etc. What to do. I think I will delete everyone I don’t have any emotional contact with, or maybe delete it all……. Great discussion.

    Doug wrote on March 9th, 2010
  17. Ricardo Semler used evolutionary psychological principles such as Dunbar’s number to create a fantastic business in Brazil:Semco.

    Selfactual wrote on March 9th, 2010
  18. This post really struck a chord with two others that came up in my Reader today:

    The guy at Zen Habits before has written about how large social networks are a drag on our attention. Here’s what he wrote yesterday:
    http://mnmlist.com/facebook-friends/

    Even better is what the writer of Whole Health Source had to say about this yesterday:

    http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2009/03/paleolithic-mind.html

    Very thought-provoking stuff.

    isaac wrote on March 9th, 2010
  19. Very interesting topic, thanks. I tend to agree.

    Suzan wrote on March 9th, 2010
  20. Why couldn’t we be working to increase the size of our brain through a greater number of social interactions. Heard a guy from Cambridge Uni talking about this a while ago. Being a teacher I’m exploiting the web and social networking to help students make connections. My feeling is that all this web stuff is the beginning of an evolutionary step.

    Keith McNeill wrote on March 9th, 2010
  21. This has somewhat to do with the social networking thing, but can there be a rule barring “first!” comments?

    Donn wrote on March 9th, 2010
  22. Nice post, Mark. And thanks for the mention. I tend to use facebook as a way to spread the primal/paleo word, share snapshots of family or delicious meals I’ve made, & etc. I also use it very sporadically, with a couple of days of frequent updates or browsing FBF pages interspersed among long stretches of little to no use. It never stresses me out.

    I used to be very outgoing and have a lot of friends with whom I hung out quite frequently, but having kids put a damper on that! Now my home and social life revolves around my nuclear family with little excursions here and there when opportunities arise, such as friends (Brent, Mark, etc.) are in town, chatting with Chris Owens if I happen to be sipping coffee at Intelligentsia in Venice, CA, or when I’m at a professional conference and can chat with long-term acquaintances, friends, old school mates and my mentors. I spend some time in personal relationships via email and related social media and I value them greatly, even though they are a small part of the time I spend in social interactions. They are very rewarding nonetheless and I have grown a lot in the past few years because of it.

    Grok on!
    Aaron

    Aaron Blaisdell wrote on March 9th, 2010
    • There’s a fascinating level of positive serendipity at play in the social connections that have emerged in my life when technology tools are engaged, limited, and nurtured in the right, balanced way. We just have to be strategic about it all and recognize the dynamics that Mark captured nicely in this essay.

      Best,

      Brent

      epistemocrat wrote on March 10th, 2010
  23. I teach 300 individuals per year… And I have to know them so incredibly well that I could tell their parents what the kid had for lunch three weeks ago (/exaggeration). I’d love to forward this article to the education policy-makers in Australia! And that’s outside of all the people I know through other outlets… Strangely enough, I don’t find that stressful.

    Girl Gone Primal wrote on March 9th, 2010
  24. I think that’s a great article. I’m a tech person and a programmer. All systems have limits. Now there are ways to cheat particular systems to allow them to hold more data than they could in a standard configuration. I think nowadays we compartmentalize our groups of people. I have the people I snowboard with, my industry friends, camping friends, etc etc. I made the mistake a couple years ago and combined all of my friends at one of my parties..it was a cluster f***. I couldn’t put out one fire before the next one began. I think if we are able to keep our intricate social networks separate there is a chance they can grow…but eventually they will be separated once they grow to some unmanageable size. Just think right now: In any given circle of friends, you have your close friends…and your acquaintances… it’s no different.

    jazzwyld wrote on March 9th, 2010
  25. This is a great article , Mark. And to think–I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t clicked the link on facebook!

    Al Kavadlo wrote on March 9th, 2010
  26. I’ve known this for years. I can only handle about 10 close relationships at any given time. Most of my family can only handle 2 or 3; a lot of loner types in the mix. This is why it pays to be *very* selective in who you spend your time and energy on. Who do you want to hunt with in life? Who has your back in a fight against real predators? Who will share with you when food and shelter is scarce?

    Great post!

    Miss Alpha wrote on March 9th, 2010
    • What an interesting way to look at friend selection!

      Andrea wrote on March 9th, 2010
    • Wow! Your perspective is bang-on, I hadn’t thought it it that way! But it’s so true- who would I want to hunt with in life? Who would have my back if it came down to it?

      Christina wrote on September 5th, 2013
  27. Social interactions are wonderful. But online interactions aren’t very social. If they’re used to set up face to face interactions, or to spread a message, promote a business, etc, then it’s all fine and good.

    But if you’re talking to your friends online for 3 hours, and none of you have anything important you’re doing, then get off your butts and hit the outdoors, go to a bar, swim naked, play leap frog. Life’s not going to live itself.

    I’ve heard people say “Lol” in real life, and not on purpose.

    Claire wrote on March 9th, 2010
  28. I actually “Cap” my friends at 300, 100 limited, about 160 “normal”, 20 “Level 1s’ and about 10 or so “Family”

    If I add a new friend, I have to delete an old one. :)

    Eyeshield9 wrote on March 9th, 2010
  29. How timely! In this NY Times article:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/10/health/10flu.html

    It refers to Hutterite communities in Canada. A quote:

    “…they live in communities of up to 160 people, own everything jointly, attend their own schools, eat in one dining hall and have little contact with the outside world.”

    Don Wiss wrote on March 9th, 2010
  30. Hey I posted something about this same guy a while back! Mark, did you happen to see it? I think it was in response to a comment by Richard Nikoley, but I can’t remember the name of the article on which we both commented. Anyhow, glad to see you’ve discovered the awesomeness of Dunbar’s Number and its applications in modern life!

    Adam Saltzberg wrote on March 9th, 2010
  31. Wait I just found it! http://www.marksdailyapple.com/health-benefits-altruism/
    My comment’s down near the bottom.

    Adam Saltzberg wrote on March 9th, 2010
  32. You find Dunbar’s number all over the place. An Army squad, a fundamental unit for team functions, is 10 men. A company, the smallest unit that operates fully independent, is about 120 men.

    Cerebus wrote on March 9th, 2010
    • I was just going to post that very observance. Infantry soldiers definitely form increasingly tighter-knit bonds with their smaller groupings, from the company level (I barely knew some guys in my company), to the platoon, to the squad, and right down to the fire team (4 guys).

      Mark wrote on March 12th, 2010
  33. I for one am for social networking and media.If it wasn’t for sites like this one and Facebook, the Seattle Primal BluePrint Group would not have existed. We’ve used it to our advantage in helping build a strong community that fosters the same ideas about healthy living and we also provide support for one another. We’re meeting again on the 20th for another fun time were personal interaction takes over where online interaction stops.

    Jose wrote on March 9th, 2010
  34. I’d wager that if you did a compilation of everyone’s Facebook, you would come out with an average of 150 to 200 ‘friends’, (bearing in mind that many peoples ‘friends’ are folks they ‘un-grouped’ years ago, and there is peer pressure in younger Facebookers to have more friends) of which the most people probably keep in touch with 12 close friends on a regular basis….? Its all monkey business!

    mike wrote on March 9th, 2010
  35. I like your cherry-picking quote. Neither full immersion in online social circle nor total reclusion is the way… it’s viable to keep the golden mean!

    Philipp H wrote on March 10th, 2010
  36. This was a great read, thanks for writing it, Mark.

    Actually, according to some new research ( http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=84441 ), it might be more correct to say that the size of the working memory is 4 chunks rather than 7. This is because 4 is the result that has been found through research in which using chunks larger than one was not possible.

    The difference between the results comes from the fact that we tend to try and form chunks as large as possible. For instance, if I was asked to remember the code MH10PBC, I would not remember it as M-H-1-0-P-B-C, but rather as “my initials”-ten-P-B-C, making it far easier to remember – 5 chunks instead of 7. When things exceed our capacity, we combine several into one if we can.

    I wonder if we have the same tendency with people. Nowadays people go into schools with 500 to 1000 children and stroll in cities with millions of people. In these circumstances, it is no a wonder if rather than perceiving people as individuals, we have come into a world full of stereotypes and categories for people, forming several into one.

    Of course a bit of association and typing is typical and natural of the human psyche, but I get the feeling we often go overboard. I have even seen people get angry when I do not fit the stereotype they have chosen for me, and it has confused me a lot. Maybe the reason lies in Dunbar’s number – we just have a hard time handling the hundreds of people we know, so we have to form larger social chunks.

    The two paragraphs just now were just speculation, but I do think it is an interesting thought. There are so many subjects that could be researched with Dunbar’s number in mind. Fascinating indeed!

    M.H. wrote on March 10th, 2010
  37. I must be one of the very few people in the 15-40 demographic who’s never had a facebook account! Not from any kind of deliberate resolve but simply because it’s never seemed remotely appealing – when friends talked about it it sounded like a non-stop battle that you could never win to keep updating your status with the wittiest comment, add to your friends list… A bit like being back in high school. If I ever feel like I am missing out I will change my mind but it hasn’t happened yet! I keep in touch with friends by the good old fashioned means of email (if email can be old fashioned…)

    LV wrote on March 10th, 2010
  38. I never understood the idea that people are so glad when they can’t use their phones because then they aren’t available 24 hours a day. Just because your phone is ringing, doesn’t mean you have to answer it! Whenever I visit my mother, I’m always harassing her about her phone. She thinks if she doesn’t answer it right that second (rather than letting people leave a message) then something is going to go amiss, but then she complains that people are always calling her. If you don’t want to talk to someone, don’t answer the phone, period. People are so impatient nowadays – it’s good to make them wait.

    Same goes for Twitter and Facebook. I see no appeal to telling people everything that I’m doing, especially if they aren’t close friends. Those 150 people who are FB “friends” are not your friends – they’re acquaintances. There’s a big difference. I find that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to forge meaningful relationships because people have become so flighty. So many people seem to think it’s okay to make plans and then flake out at the last minute because they texted you, so what’s the big deal, right? I’d rather have one real friend than a million FB ones.

    Remember, real friends are people who are still there when you need them. They’re supposed to be a support network. How many of your friends would really pull through for you when you needed them? And would you be willing to sacrifice yourself for them as well?

    kcurtain wrote on March 10th, 2010
  39. Just like with anything in life…..moderation. Facebook is no different than any other way of communicating. It’s about how you utilize it and when. I check facebook once a day and post when something is worth interest to my friends and family.

    Steve wrote on March 10th, 2010
  40. I think things like fb and cell phones can definitely cause stress if not moderated, i like having fb to keep in touch with out of town family but that is basically what I use it for, I make it a point not to add anyone as a fb friend unless they are a relative or if I honestly maintain a real life friendship with that person, everyone wants to have friends but I want real ones, not pretend friends, plus there is the stress of having to limit your profile to who can see what when if you only add those you trust you can be open and honest and yourself, and one thing I have learned is life is much less stressful when you can be yourself. Sometimes I fear I am at the opposite end of the spectrum, I only have 1 friend, sure I have family and work colleagues who I enjoy time with at work but I only have one personal friend who I spend time with outside of work or family gatherings I never feel stressed or bogged down from my cellphone because to me when it rings it is a special treat because it is so rare and exciting. When I was in highschool and college and had a large group of friends I remember feeling like I needed to escape from it all because I never had me time and now perhaps I have way too much me time, its harder to make friends when you arent in school anymore and everyone you knew has moved this way or that. I just need to find my niche and perhaps it will fall into place. One thing I will stick to though is, I would rather have a few real meaningful friendships than 300 fake friendships that only exist in facebook.

    jennyleigh wrote on March 10th, 2010

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