Dunbar’s number: your neocortex deciding how many friends you have

In his seminal article, Dunbar predicted a social group size that humans can afford according to brain size. The Dunbar’s number. And tried to validate it with a study of several human little societies. The study confirms the magic number -150- as the human group size limit… is no longer applicable. In fact, I doubt that he would agree with the virally derived conclusions that made this number so popular.

Atribución flickr-com/photos/dantaylor/2044337954

Dunbar used in the study just agrarian societies because the structural complexity of post-agrarian societies changes everything. Even more: not camps nor tribes are aligned with the prediction. Dunbar’s number was only confirmed by clan-based societies. He manages to fit several picturesque contemporaneous societies as Hutterites. That’s true. Well, with some adjustments like using the average of group sizes. (In addition, the average group size of Hutterite communities in USA is 97 guys instead of 150 as Dunbar say, according to their own data [2]).

Neocortex and how many friends you have

The problem could be that the article uses neocortex size as the predictor. But the key human neocórtex development is in complexity and not in size. Size is not that important here. And this complexity construction occurs not in the embryo gestation but with the social learning to reach maturity. Social structure has a critical influence on neocortex programming. And social relationship boosts neocortex features.

So. Paying attention just to biological dimensions to postulate a size of the human social group is, at least, naïve. More if we think mankind has been modifying his own ontology with technological and social innovations. These ideas deny the influence letters, telephone, mass media, new transport means or Internet have in the definition and enhancement of interpersonal relationships.

Atribución flickr-com/photos/fncll/135465558

The human being relational model is not explained in genes.

The human being, his culture, his communicative abilities cannot be extrapolated. We are continuously enhancing our brain and as a consequence his own definition. How so? With the enculturation. That means the brain is being rounded off until death.

Peeps are only able to have 150 links. Because according to the Dunbar’s number the social group size must have as a MAX 150 individuals. And overriding this limit cause severe social disruptions. Fair enough. Let’s take the gremial size in World of Warcraft[3] –WoW[4]– which remains under the 50 limitation. Can you anticipate what would happen if we put Gorillas to play WoW? 😀

Morale: When we develop our neocórtex capacities over so powerful tools as the Internet provides, the human being increases his social horizon and interrelation chances and outdates the 150 relationships limit. So say goodbye to the Dunbar’s number.

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Raúl Antón Cuadrado


[2] http://www.hutterites.org/typesofHutterites.htm

[3] http://www.lifewithalacrity.com/2005/08/dunbar_world_of.html

[4] http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/

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