How many friends do you have?

It depends on what one means by friends, right? A recent article in the “New Scientist” magazine suggested that one could view our relationships as a series of concentric circles with our closest friends in the innermost circle and our loosest contacts in the outermost circle. Interestingly it is propsed that, as one moves from one circle outwards to the next, the scaling ratio is about three, each total containing members of the layers within.

The model in the article looks like this:

  • Intimates 5
  • Best friends 15
  • Good friends 50
  • Friends 150
  • Acquaintances 500
  • People I recognise 1500

The friends figure is a particuarly interesting one. It is sometimes called Dunbar’s number. This is┬áthe number of people one knows and keeps social contact with, and it does not include the number of people known personally with a ceased social relationship, nor people just generally known with a lack of persistent social relationship. The concept was proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar.

I must say that this analysis accords quite well with my own experience. My intimate friends are about half a dozen and, if I check the contact details on my iPhone, I find that the number today comes to 1,549.


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