Face to Facebook

The “social brain hypothesis” is a theoretical model which states that animals in large social groups have bigger brains. For animals in smaller social groups, the cost of having a large brain outweighs the benefits. The implication for humans is that human intelligence did not evolve primarily as a means to solve ecological problems, but rather as a means of surviving and reproducing in large and complex social groups. Inherent to the social brain theory is also the idea that the human brain’s ability to process relationships creates a natural group size for people of somewhere between 100 and 200. The size of friendship groups is also determined of course by how much time we have to devote to maintaining those friendships. With the advent of social media like Facebook it has been suggested that our friendship group can now increase in size as we can connect with many people at any one time. Whether Facebook does increase our friendship groups is exactly what was studied in a new piece of research.

The study involved surveys of more than 3,300 people and it found that the average number of friends that people had on Facebook was between 155 (in a first study) and 183 (in a second study). Both of these numbers are right in the middle of what the social brain hypothesis would predict.

Among the friends listed an average of only 28 per cent were regarded as “close” or “genuine” friends by the subjects and when asked how many they would turn to for support in a crisis or turn to for sympathy then the average groups were between 4 and 14 friends in the two studies.

So even though some people did have larger groups of online friends, when it came to estimating “real” friends the numbers were the same for all people.

In the end that means that Facebook is broadening your contact with acquaintances rather than increasing your number of friends. There is nothing wrong with that…unless you delude yourself that it is otherwise.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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