Sunday, May 29, 2016

Friends By the Numbers

I was driving to the store the other morning and happened to hear on morning talk radio that there is a study that now claims that the human brain can only handle FIVE "best" friends and 10 "close" friends.  HMMM...In this particular study they did an analysis to determine how a person's brain size dictates the number of friends one can have at any given time. Mind you they aren't calculating things such as time constraints, organizational abilities, or the fact we may or may not be a nasty human being.

I, of course, like to think of myself as having at least a normal size brain and being a relatively nice person about 95 percent of the time. (depending on driving conditions and customer service issues that percentage may dip or spike a bit).

WELL as I was saying about this study..... it occurs to me that before starting the task of paring my friend list down to 5,  maybe I would research it a bit further.  Wouldn't want to be accused of being a friend hoarder or misclassify my pals into the inappropriate categories

I think in today's world, even determining the difference between acquaintances and friends is a bit of a dilemma. Wouldn't you agree that it's all gotten a bit confusing as to who our friends are?  The word is so overused at this point that it has become diluted.  Does the word "friend" even imply some type of actual emotional connection? Do the people you refer to as "friends" really make the cut in terms of being part of a support system for you or you for them?

Back in the early 1990s, a British anthropologist, Robin Dunbar did a major study on the number of people that could realistically be in an individual's social sphere.   His research was predicated on the idea that the size of a primate's brain (yes...we are talking monkey's brains here) and it's later evolved human brain dictated the number of people that could effectively be in a monkey/human's social group. That "supposed" number of people that one can call friends is around 150 which would become known as the Dunbar's Number.  Well..that used to be the number but I will be getting to that in a moment.

As studies go..this study was pretty dull reading (or in my case, pretty dull skimming over it). Dunbar used a bunch of algorithms to figure out how primates formed social groups and how that led to humans doing the same.  The primates depended pretty much on social "grooming" as a way to bond with other primates and become friends. Actually, I find this rather surprising that nowhere in the study was the idea that monkey sex, was used in forming social groups.  Of course,  maybe that comes after one gets de-flead and de-ticked.

Thankfully man evolved, talking became a thing, and we started collecting confidantes. Turns out talking smack about other people is far more satisfying that picking bugs and such off of them. Actually, Dunbar wrote a whole book Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language  explaining his theory that speech evolved because early man was needing an easier way to bond with others beside using social grooming.  Makes you wonder, which came first, the social greeting like "UGH!" or some prehistoric pickup line that amounts to "you want some of this?"

BUT as I was saying...Dunbar and his cohorts had to re-visit the original study and start readjusting his results to allow for the digital impact on friendship.  Starting in 2007 they began tracking the data from 6 BILLION cellular phone calls by 35 million people to figure out the layers of "best friends" within the speculative 150 friends a person has. According to the study they tracked people that make between 10-40 non-business related  calls a day because the deemed that frequency of calls has something to do with the strength of the bond between the caller and the callee. (Far be it from me to think there are a few serial nutjobs in the group or some of those people were calling into 1-900 numbers--or is that considered a "business" call? ) 

To be fair, later in the study they did include Facebook as part of the research. In that portion it was noted that a lot of Facebook friends don't fit the criteria of being real friends. (OMG..I hope that didn't shock anyone)

Also, I can't help but be a bit disappointed that it didn't tell us in the results how many of the test participants lost their friends due to the extreme over usage of their cell phones. Forty phone calls a day seem a bit excessive but then again, maybe none of my friends think our friendship is "40 calls a day" worthy.

Matthew Brashears, assistant professor of sociology at Cornell University - See more at: FOR THE RESULTS...after crunching all the numbers over the last 9 years or so, it turns out that while we might have a 150 people that we "call" our friends, our human brain latches on to about 15ish people we really bond with....and 4 or 5 of those that are very close confidantes.
Me being the cynic I am, I am not sure how one would calculate the level of "closeness" assigned to an individual's friends nor take into account a extroverted person's numbers compared to an introverted person's numbers but I think it does bring up  an interesting conversation of  "who do you consider a true friend?" So you think 5 BEST friends is a reasonable number? Do you have a 150 people in your support group that you could honestly say are your friends and not just an acquaintance? AND if you are making 40 non-business related calls a day, do you have time to do anything else?

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