Story by: Adrienne Rodney, Interview by: Brooke Allen
Robin Dunbar, British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist at Oxford, says you can have at most 150 sensible, reciprocated relationships. This is known as the Dunbar Number, and it is discussed in his book, How Many Friends Does One Person Need?: Dunbar’s Number and Other Evolutionary Quirks.
Our most important relationships are with our intimate friends and family – the people we love, rely on and support when times are tough. But most of the people we know make up the outer layers of our social network – our coworkers, neighbors and friends of friends, and these outer layer relationships are more vital than we think. “They’re the people who help you out when things are down by finding you jobs or letting you know there’s a job going where they work,” Dunbar says. “That’s a source of information for you.”
Yet our social well-being depends on the strength of our most intimate relationships. “Those who have a bigger social network have, on average, less intimacy with each of the members,” Dunbar says. “If your inner core relationships are going to be important to you…you do best by focusing your attention on those closest to you.”
Dunbar spoke with Brooke Allen about his research on relationships and the roles they play in our lives. You can learn more about Dunbar’s number and the layers of relationships by listening to Brooke and Robin’s conversation below.
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