You could be forgiven for never having heard of the Dunbar Number, not least because it isn’t a specific number. But in 1998 the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar published ‘The Social Brain Hypothesis’, which suggested that human brains can only keep up with about 150 people at a time. That’s the Dunbar Number – about 150.
This number is consistently proven throughout history: Stone Age villages averaged about 150 inhabitants, just as modern villages do. The latest social model shown to follow the Dunbar number theory is Twitter.
Twitter users can easily build up a following of thousands and follow a similar number themselves; the social model places no limits on our social networks, enabling them to grow exponentially. But it would appear that the human brain is the bottleneck for this new technology.
Goncalves noticed that conversations with less important contacts would become less frequent and that the Twitter users began to concentrate only on people they had very strong links with. And at what point did this happen? You guessed it: the Dunbar Number.
“This finding suggests that even though modern social networks help us to log all the people with whom we meet and interact,” says Goncalves, “they are unable to overcome the biological and physical constraints that limit stable social relations”.
Therefore we needn’t envy those hyperactive Tweeters with 2,500 followers – they can’t keep up with them all anyway.
Stuart Carter is employed as an SEO Web Editor for recruitment company Elan. He writes both on and about the web, which he loves.