150 Friends on Facebook? You're Close to Only 4

No, social media isn't helping you grow the number of your friends
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 21, 2016 7:21 AM CST
C-3PO and R2-D2: True best buds.   (AP Photo/Dark Horse Comics)

(Newser) – Social media may make managing friendships logistically easier, but perhaps unsurprisingly, Facebook and the like aren't actually helping you grow your circle of true friends. So reports evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar this month in the journal Royal Society Open Science, after analyzing research conducted in April and May of 2015 involving 3,375 people ages 18 to 65. While women typically have larger social circles than men, the average number of Facebook friends among this sample was 150, reports CNET. But the average number of friends one can truly count on in a crisis is just four—which reflects one's offline numbers, and is remarkably consistent across backgrounds, gender, and age. Dunbar defines several friendship levels, each panning out from the four or five closest friends the average person maintains, reports the Washington Post.

From there, most of us widen the circle of "sympathy" friends we feel we can confide in to 15, and widen it again to 50 friends who are "close." Most of us can't seem to maintain much more than 150 "casual" friends, though, and the typical realm of total acquaintances tops out at 500. Even those with thousands of Facebook friends aren't necessarily more social, Dunbar concludes: "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." And while social media can help slow the natural rate of "decay" that occurs over time, "that alone may not be sufficient to prevent friendships eventually dying naturally if they are not occasionally reinforced by face-to-face interaction," he adds. (Meanwhile, here's why Facebook was touting 46-year friendships recently.)

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