The Dunbar Number

This post is a collection of links about the existence and consequences of the Dunbar number.


Dunbar’s number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar’s number, but a commonly cited approximation is 150.

The Wall Street Journal:

there is reason to believe that the social-networking sites will enable their users to burst past Dunbar’s number for friends, just as humans have developed and harnessed technology to surpass their physical limits on speed, strength and the ability to process information.

The Economist:

What mainly goes up [in the number of Facebook contacts], therefore, is not the core network but the number of casual contacts that people track more passively. This corroborates Dr Marsden’s ideas about core networks, since even those Facebook users with the most friends communicate only with a relatively small number of them.

The Monkeysphere:

So how many monkeys would you have to own before you couldn’t remember their names? At what point, in your mind, do your beloved pets become just a faceless sea of monkey? Even though each one is every bit the monkey Slappy was, there’s a certain point where you will no longer really care if one of them dies.

Zhou, Sornette, Hill & Dunbar:

Using fractal analysis, we identify with high statistical confidence a discrete hierarchy of group sizes with a preferred scaling ratio close to 3: rather than a single or a continuous spectrum of group sizes, humans spontaneously form groups of preferred sizes organized in a geometrical series approximating 3, 9, 27,…

Bruce Schneier:

The smallest, three to five, is a “clique”: the number of people from whom you would seek help in times of severe emotional distress. The twelve to 20 group is the “sympathy group”: people with which you have special ties. After that, 30 to 50 is the typical size of hunter-gatherer overnight camps, generally drawn from the same pool of 150 people. No matter what size company you work for, there are only about 150 people you consider to be “co-workers.” The 500-person group is the “megaband,” and the 1,500-person group is the “tribe.” Fifteen hundred is roughly the number of faces we can put names to, and the typical size of a hunter-gatherer society.


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