Scientists Say You Can Only Have 5 Close Friends At A Time

According to scientists, your brain can't deal with more than 150 friends and only 5 close ones.

According to new research, the number of simultaneous close friends we can have is approximately five. A long-standing theory states that our brains could limit the number of people we consider 'close' and it may be confirmed by a recent analysis conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Technology Review.

In a study conducted in the '90s, British anthropologist and researcher Robin Dunbar observed a correlation between brain size and social relationships. His research suggested that the bigger an animal's brain, the larger its social group, and he developed a formula to get an approximate number based on brain size. Afterward, he applied his findings to the size of a human brain and found we are only capable of having 150 people in our social sphere.

Dunbar then studied the concept by analyzing the emotional depth of the relationships and 'layered' the social network based on the level of closeness we feel to each of the 150 persons. According to him, the closest emotional layer contains approximately 5 individuals. The second layer contains 10 people, the third includes 35, and the final one includes 100 people.

Recently, scientists applied this theory to the masses and discovered that Dunbar's estimate is pretty accurate. A team of researchers in the UK analyzed mobile data from 2007 of 6 billion calls made by 34 million people in Europe. They looked at individuals who made reciprocated phone calls to approximately 100 people and used the frequency of the phone calls as a measure of closeness.

The researchers found that the patterns in the phone calls were very similar to the layers suggested by Dunbar. The average cumulative layers in the new study contained 4.1, 11.0, 29.8, and 128.9 people, respectively. "These numbers are a little smaller than the conventional numbers for Dunbar layers, but within their natural range of variation," the researchers concluded.

On average, the analyzed individuals called a little over four people most frequently. "Most people have a very small number of close friends, but this number varies from person to person. The range could fluctuate between one and 15 people, but the average is about four to five," Pádraig Mac Carron, one of the authors, explained.

The research didn't take into consideration self-reported meaningful relationships, which would have been an interesting comparison, and neither it identified if some of the frequently called individuals were family members. However, the results are fascinating, as they reveal that our strongest relationships are limited.

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