Your relationships depend on your cognitive ability to manage them
Studies on human social networks suggest that on average, you will interact with about 150 people on a regular basis. Your relationships are further organised into sets of hierarchical inclusive layers or circles of people that you relate to. So there will be about three to five people with whom you have a close relationship (family or friends), then a group of 10 people with whom you have a close friendship and moving outwards your circle will increase to about 30-35 people that you frequently interact with. There will be a further 100 or so people you will come into contact with in your daily life. As the size of your circle increases, the emotional connection you have in that circle decreases. The scaling ratio follows a consistent sequence but no theoretical explanation exists for this phenomenon.
An inverse regime occurs in small communities when fewer people are available with whom to establish a relationship, leading to the broadening of the circle of close friendships with the people available.
To understand this, researchers began a study with the hypothesis that human relationships involve a different degree of effort depending on their emotional involvement and that our ability to manage these relationships is limited.
The researchers analysed data from a group of 84 students from a major Middle Eastern university. They found that 98 per cent of individuals have relationships that are hierarchically distributed with an approximate constant scaling ratio, also called standard regime.
The researchers then focused on four different communities of immigrants who were more likely to form small, independent social circles within their places of residence. The researchers found that 96 per cent of the relationships in these communities were of inverse regime — when individuals tend to have a large number of close relationships and little acquaintances. An inverse regime occurs in small communities when fewer people are available with whom to establish a relationship, leading to the broadening of the circle of close friendships with the people available.
The researchers also conclude that if one has a large number of relationships, it’s impossible for all of them to be intimate and therefore some will be superficial.
The study also found that the organisation of our friendships is largely guided by the cost to relationships — in terms of time and/or our cognitive capacity — and heterogeneity in the relationships — in terms of their benefits and/or emotional content.
Thus the amount of time and mental effort you devote to your relationships will determine the hierarchical structure of your circle of friendships. This means that if your cognitive abilities are high, you can expand your circle of intimate friendships.
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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