Can You Beat Dunbar’s Number?

Can You Beat Dunbar’s Number?

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar's claims that the most people you can maintain stable social relationships with is 150. With many of us following people well in excess of 150, is there a way to beat Dunbar's number?

Paloma M. Vazquez
  • 3 march 2010

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s recently published book,  “How Many Friends Does One Person Need?” offers a theory proposing that the most people you can maintain stable social relationships with is 150. With many of us following people well in excess of 15o, does social media allow us to maintain reciprocal relationships with more people, and ultimately “beat” Dunbar’s number?

Dunbar asserts that the amount of time we invest in a relationship is proportionate to its quality, and that face-to-face relationships are simply unmatched by online ones.  That said, what online relationships are good for is to stall the decay of a relationship – for example, one with a person you exchanged contact info with after briefly meeting, but have not connected with regularly.  In the absence of lunch and a conversation, you can at the very least retweet his last blog post.

While it’s hard to argue with this logic, it’s also difficult to limit yourself to 150 Twitter contacts, or to prove there’s significant downside to following 330 contacts; let’s say – particularly if a great idea, or job posting, came from your 151st, or 234th contact.  Mathew May was inspired by both Dunbar’s Number and Gladwell’s Tipping Point when he started categorizing his Twitter network in lists based on Gladwell’s three categorizations:

  1. Connectors. Those who will get the word out, and an extraordinary knack for linking people across many different domains in their networks.
  2. Mavens. An information specialist and expert in a given subject matter. Mavens accumulate, create and share knowledge freely, and might help others solve problems by telling them how they solved their own. Authors and business leaders might fall into this category.
  3. Salesmen. Persuaders and successful ambassadors. Opinion leaders, news leaders, and any celebrity/personality connections may fall into this bucket.

One way of purportedly “beating” Dunbar’s number is by organizing your contacts around each of these categories, and by building each to account for more than 150 over time.

[AmEx OPEN Forum Via Brain Pickings]

image by respres


Flower Pencils Create Cherry Blossom Petals When Sharpened

Arts & Culture
Food Today

New York Restaurant Uses Tomato Sushi As Its Newest Meat Alternative

fresh&co is using sous vide Roma tomatoes to create a vegan option that has the texture and taste of tuna

Travel Today

Red Bull Converts Sao Paulo Payphones Into Data-Driven Bus Schedules

The booths allow city residents to check local transit times through a simple toll-free phone call


Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Work Today

Health Expert: Nutritional Meal Replacements Are A Solution To Corporate Wellness

Ample Foods Founder Conner Young explains why supplements are the next food trend coming to the workplace

Related Expert

Joshua Green

Digital Strategist

Children Today

Modular Kit Teaches Kids How To Make Their Own Robots

MODI features magnetic modules and a platform for programming to encourage experimentation

Infants Today

Work Table Doubles As A Baby Seat

Designer Kunsik Choi created the furniture to facilitate emotional communication between between parents and their children

Arts & Culture Today

Album Turns Into Something New Each Time It’s Streamed

Bill Baird's new album explores the relationship between time and music through a website crafted by design team, One Pixel Wide


Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry

PSFK Op-Ed october 17, 2016

Home Depot Green Energy Expert: Americans Are Taking Control Of Their Power Use

Green tech expert Jennifer Tuohy discusses new home energy tech and developments for renewables in the US

PSFK Labs october 12, 2016

PSFK Picks: Top 5 Performance-Enhancing Wearables

Our new report looks at innovations pioneering the future of performance through intelligent activewear and predictive analytics

Technology Today

Wearable Device And Lamp Recreate Beautiful Sunsets In Your Home

Sun Memories can record up to six hours of natural light and reproduce it via a connected light at a later date

Augmented & Virtual Reality Today

The Simpsons Is Stepping Into The World Of VR

To celebrate their 600th episode, the animated family sitcom created a virtual reality version of their opening gag

Syndicated Yesterday

Museum Exhibit Celebrates Strange Architectural Contraptions

Artist William Heath Robinson's peculiar genius is on display in this recent show with wiggling ducts, jumbles of planks and coils of cable

Food Yesterday

This Sensor Will Help You Brew The Perfect Cup Of Tea Every Time

42Tea is a small device that guides you through every step of the brewing process, even identifying the type of leaves being used

Design & Architecture Yesterday

Norwegian Mountaineering Center Mimics A Snow-Capped Mountain

The structure's exterior is clad in a uniform surface of pixels to create a unique climbing experience

Gaming & Play Yesterday

Shopping Bag Turns Your Hands Into A LEGO

Designers from the School of Visual Arts thought up the Playbox Bag for a competition

Sustainability Yesterday

Giant Coffee Cups Encourage People To Recycle Their Morning Cup Of Joe

The Hubbub Foundation has created a set of themed bins meant to inspire recycling on a large scale

Home Yesterday

Small Device Creates A Personal Weather Station Inside In Your Home

Netatmo's new sensor is a standalone air quality monitor that can measure humidity, purity, noise and temperature

No search results found.