My dear grandpa always told me the same thing when I had friend problems growing up: “Be careful who you trust. I’d rather have four quarters than 100 pennies.”
I’m pretty sure he stole that from someone else, but the message resonated: It’s better to have a few good friends rather than a bunch of crappy ones. And, as with most things he preached to me, he was right — but not for the reason you’d probably expect.
During the 1990s, British anthropologist Robin Dunbar studied the correlation between brain size and number of friends and found that people with bigger brains were better capable of maintaining more friendships. On average, people can handle a social circle of about 150 people — five best friends, 10 “close” friends, 35 acquaintances and 100 contacts.
His team recently tested that theory by evaluating phone calls made by 35 million people in a random European country during 2007. Why 2007? It was before smartphones were everywhere and people actually still made phone calls.
“The team assumes that the frequency of calls between two individuals is a measure of the strength of their relationship,” the MIT Technology Review wrote in a recent post about the study, adding that, “Dunbar and co include only individuals who make reciprocated calls and focus on individuals who call at least 100 other people.”
They found that Dunbar’s initial estimates weren’t that far off — and that it didn’t really matter if a person was an introvert or an extrovert; they all pretty much had the same number of friends.
This makes me feel better since I tend to keep a pretty small circle of close friends, but I still have a question for Dunbar and his team: What if you have fewer than five BFFs? Does that mean my brain is smaller? Because, I assure you, my large head seems to indicate otherwise.