Facebook has 1.7 billion monthly users – each of whom has an average of around 200 friends, depending on who you ask.
So why do so many of us still feel alone?
That could be because ‘friends’ on Facebook don’t actually deliver the benefits of friends in the real world, according to psychologists.
An increasing number of researchers suggests you might be better off focusing on a smaller number of close friends, rather than hitting ‘refresh’ on News Feed all day long.
HOW MANY FRIENDS DO YOU REALLY HAVE ROOM FOR?
Research from British anthropologist Robin Dunbar.suggests that people’s lists of hundreds of Facebook friends may not reflect how many ‘real’ friends they have.
Dunbar analysed six billion phone calls made in Europe in 2007, using algorithms to spot patterns in how people called each other.
Dunbar believes that, on average, each person has an inner circle of five genuinely close friends, a circle of around 10 fairly close friends, and then a further circle of 35 close-ish friends.
HOW MANY FRIENDS DO YOU ACTUALLY HAVE TIME FOR?
An important question is how many friends you really have room for in your life – and analysis by Sydney University researchers suggests that’s fewer than you think.
In fact, we only really have the mental space for five friends, according to the researchers.
Lead researcher Michael Harre suggests that while we all navigate complex social networks, we only really let a handful of people into our ‘inner circle’.
Harre says, ‘Our findings show that maintaining about five links (friends), one for each social layer, is sufficient to support complex social networks. It takes a lot of brain power to actually socially navigate these large networks and there’s an upper limit to our ability to do that.’
HOW MANY FRIENDS CAN YOU TRUST?
Oxford University researchers found that while many of us have hundreds of ‘friends’ online – in crises, we only have four people we rely on.
Professor Robin Dunbar studied the habits of 3,500 British people – and found that in times of crisis, people only have four friends they would ask for support.
People only rely on 14 or so Facebook friends (out of an average of 150) to dispense sympathy when times are tough.
Professor Dunbar said, ‘Respondents who had unusually large networks did not increase the number of close friendships they had but rather added more loosely declined acquaintances into their friendship circle simply because most social media sites do not allow one to differentiate between the layers.’
IS FACEBOOK HELPING YOUR FRIENDSHIPS – OR MAKING THEM WORSE?
Many of us post news about our little successes on Facebook – imagining our friends will enjoy them just as much as we do.
But the habit could erode your real-life friendships, researchers have warned.
A study by Carnegie Mellon University found that most of us underestimate just how much people hate ‘humblebrags’ online.
‘When we engage in self-promotion ourselves, we tend to overestimate others’ positive reactions and underestimate their negative ones,’ said Irene Scopelliti of City University, the study’s lead author.
‘These results are particularly important in the Internet age, when opportunities for self-promotion have proliferated via social networking.
HOW MANY FRIENDS DO YOU REALLY GET BENEFITS FROM?
Each of us then has an ‘outer’ circle of around 100 people, rounding out our list of friends and associates to around 150,
But we get the most benefit from the ‘innermost’ 15, according to business psychologist Tony Crabbe, writing about Dunbar’s research in Quartz.
Crabbe writes ‘Nearly all the well-being benefits from relationships don’t come from the 500 Facebook friends, or even the 150 or the 50. They come from the 15.
‘Quality time spent with your 15 closest friends and family will have a direct impact on your happiness, health and longevity (and theirs too).’