This is How Many Friends You Should Have


Alisha Bhatia, Staff Writer

Since the start of the pandemic and lockdowns, people have been analyzing their social lives and how they will change. One important factor to consider is the number of relationships that we can maintain, a principle perfectly explained by Dunbar’s number.

This principle aims to identify a perfect number of friendships that a person can maintain, and it predicts that your social circle is limited to 150 people. Surprisingly, this number has not changed throughout human history; it remains true even for the earliest hunter-gatherers. According to the book Sapiens, these ancient tribes collapsed due to a lack of interpersonal connection if the size significantly exceeded 150. For monkeys, the number is much smaller, but the effects of a social circle that is too large remain the same.

British anthropologist Robin Dunbar discovered that this rule doesn’t only apply to a list of your friends, but many groups of people. Offices, factories, and military organizations are run best when kept under Dunbar’s number .

(1)However, 150 includes only 1 subset of friend groups; in reality, we can think of these groups as concentric circles where outer circles include more people that we have a weaker connection to. For example, the closest category, close friends, only includes about 5 people, and the largest category, known names, includes 300 times the amount of the first.
One of the main factors that determines how close your friends are, according to Dunbar, is the amount of time you are able to invest in them. This is the very reason why the number of friendships are limited. What does that mean for our world today? As many companies choose to make several positions fully remote, we can see teams at workplaces becoming smaller. This is because those working online spend less valuable time together, even if they see each other virtually for the same amount of time. For the same amount of time, meeting online results in a weaker connection between people than meeting in person, simply because these virtual interfaces make it more difficult to pick up on social cues or establish timely banter.