Social limiting factor: your brain

That humans are social creatures is nothing new. That’s one of the few things in which both at philosophy and biology class they agreed. Among other things because it is with us all through evolution , ever since our cousins the primates; what seemed impossible up to now was to extend this social capacities beyond certain limitations, basically of a physical nature, not so much for the psychological tiredness of chatting with 12 of your old neighbours but because of geographical barriers.

Ever since the internet became part of our lives and with the development of online social networks these barriers have dissapeared -or so one would think, because then meeting someone that lives in your own city sometimes is almost an impossible mission-, so much so that one could think the extension of the human social network these days has become unlimited, but is that really so? In fact, it turns out that regardless of Twitter and Facebook  some limitations still remain to the number of people we can relate to, be it in vivo (facetoface) or in silico (virtual contacts).

100-200. No more.

In the 90s the anthropologist Robin Durbar while studying the social habits of different groups of primates realized that each individual tended to be in contact with a limited number of individuals inside their group and that the bigger the brain of these primates the bigger the number of individuals they could be in contact with. It seemed therefore, that brain size was limiting the social circle of those primates. (ref. 1)

From here and extrapolating to human brain size he concluded that the maximum size of a human’s social circle should be around a 150 people. Several studies have tried to address whether this number adequately reflects maximum people a person can manage to kep contact with and it appears that with little variation, results seem to confirm Durbar’s prediction.

Even more surprising it’s the fact this number seems to be constant throughout History and among cultures, even in our high-tech times. At least that’s what some researchers from Atlanta University have found after analyzing interaction patterns of more than 3 millions tweeters over 4 years!! (ref.2)

It seems at the beginning there’s an exponential increase on the number of cyber-friends that after a while reaches a saturation point and from then on, friendship or contact, is only mantained with some 100-200 people, as Durbar’s numbers predicted.

It looks like, after all, even all the technological advances that allowed us to overcome many physical barriers to social interactions there are some other physical, biological barriers -our heads cannot keep up with so many people- to connect with everyone. Therefore, we will have to just conform to our meagre 150 people circle 😉

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