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Dunbar’s number: why my theory that humans can only maintain 150 friendships has withstood 30 years of scrutiny

By Robin Dunbar, Professor of Evolutionary Psychology, Department of Experimental Psycology, University of Oxford
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Exactly 30 years ago, I was pondering a graph of primate group sizes plotted against the size of their brains: the larger the brain, the larger the group size. I was curious to know what group size this relationship might predict for humans.

The number my calculations gave was 150. Since this seemed low, I hurried off to the library to look for data on natural human group sizes. Hunter-gatherers live in multilevel societies, with groupings of individuals forming a hierarchically layered structure – families within bands, bands within communities, communities within tribes.


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