Friday, January 10, 2014

Your Brain Can Only Handle a Few Close Friends


You'll forget your old bestie when you've got a new one.

If all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players, everyone you talk to has a certain role. It turns out, however, that the actors are interchangeable. 

Previous studies have suggested that, despite what some social climbers may think, and despite Facebook friend numbers that can climb well into the thousands, it's pretty much impossible to have an IRL social network of more than about 150 people. That’s been called “Dunbar’s number,” named after the anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, who first proposed it. It can vary from person to person, but it turns out that even among smaller circles, there’s a seemingly strict limit to how much attention one person can dole out.

A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that humans have, almost uniformly, a “one-in-one-out” policy—every time you become close to a new person, someone else subconsciously gets the boot.

“Although social communication is now easier than ever, it seems that our capacity for maintaining emotionally close relationships is finite,” said Felix Reed-Tsochas, a researcher at Oxford University and an author of the study. “While the number varies from person to person, what holds true in all cases is that at any point individuals are able to keep up close relationships with only a small number of people, so that new friendships come at the expense of ‘relegating’ existing friends.”

To test the finding, the researchers followed 24 British students as they left school and entered the workforce or a university. Researchers used both survey results from the participants and automatically-logged cell phone data to track who their “closest” friends were.

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