I don’t know if you also have such musings: “He appears exceedingly jubilant, he possesses a multitude of companions.” “He perpetually dwells in solitude, emanating an air of liberation and nonchalance.” So… does an increased number of acquaintances equate to a superior state?
Today, we shall delve into the subject of “the quantity of friendships.”
PART 1 Does a limit exist for the number of friends?
Indeed, there is an approximate threshold—around 150. This revelation was put forth by Dunbar, a psychology professor at Oxford University, in his 1993 article published in “Behavioral and Brain Sciences.” He posits that the human capacity for maintaining friendships ranges between 100 and 200, with a projected value of 147.8. This number is primarily circumscribed by two factors:
01 Cognitive constraints
In actuality, our cerebral faculties have aided us in ascertaining the answer to the inquiry, “How many friends can I cultivate?”
The central cognitive limitation, also known as the social brain hypothesis, is rooted in observations made among primates, which indicate a close correlation between the size of social groups and the magnitude of the cerebral cortex.
A series of neuroimaging studies have further substantiated this hypothesis: both in humans and monkeys, alterations in the size of social networks correspond to the capacity of specific brain regions at an individual level. To a certain extent, the brain’s capacity for information processing restricts the number of relationships an individual can effectively manage, thereby imposing limitations on the extent of friendships. When the number of friends surpasses this threshold, the brain’s capacity for information processing becomes precarious.
02 Temporal constraints
The significance of time stems from the fact that the depth of a relationship is intimately tied to the duration two individuals spend together. Research demonstrates that emotional intimacy within a dyadic connection is closely linked to the frequency of interaction.
Time is finite. Consequently, individuals are typically faced with two alternatives:
① Devote a substantial portion of their time and emotional investment to a few select individuals.
② Allocate a smaller fraction of their time and emotional energy to a larger number of people.
However, it is rare for individuals to allocate their time and emotions sparingly. Rather, time and emotion are apportioned evenly among each friend. Substantial evidence suggests that in genuine social interactions, friendships exhibit a hierarchical “ranking.” Notable stratification occurs at certain thresholds, such as around 5, 15, 50, and 150 acquaintances.
Consequently, this corresponds to having 5 “inner circle” friends, 10 “second inner circle” friends, 35 “third inner circle” friends, and 100 “outer circle” friends.
PART 2 What factors influence the quantity of friendships?
The ability to allure others comprises two facets: power and amiability.
Here, power encompasses a broad spectrum, encompassing elements such as physical appearance (height, aesthetics), intelligence quotient, social status, reputation, affluence, dominance over others, and the utility one provides to others. Amiability denotes the capacity to mitigate hostility from others. (The ability to attentively listen to others also constitutes a form of amiability.) It is intrinsic to human nature to be drawn to individuals possessing one or both of these qualities, seeking advantages and evading disadvantages.
In truth, the number of friendships undergoes regular fluctuations as we progress through different stages of life.
A study conducted by Bhattacharya analyzed social data from three million mobile phone users and discovered that the number of friendships reaches its zenith around the age of 25. Thereafter, the number of friendships steadily declines until the age of 80.
03 Emotional Quotient
Emotional Quotient (EQ), also referred to as emotional intelligence, primarily encompasses an individual’s disposition towards mood, emotion, volition, and tolerance for frustration.
Specifically, emotional intelligence encompasses five core areas:
comprehending one’s own emotions, managing emotions, self-motivation, discerning the emotions of others, and handling interpersonal relationships.
Individuals who exhibit emotional stability and empathetic abilities tend to possess a greater number of friends. However, the influence of empathy on friendship quantity is also contingent upon gender. Empathetic boys are more likely to be regarded as friends by girls, while boys are less inclined to consider empathetic girls as their friends.
04 Social needs: Solitude ≠ Loneliness
Although prior research has indicated that the presence of friends serves as a significant predictor of loneliness, a consistent conclusion regarding the impact of the number of friends on loneliness remains elusive. Being alone and feeling lonely are inherently distinct.
For individuals who relish solitude and engage in profound introspection, an abundance of social activities and gatherings can even metamorphose into a form of “purgatory,” evoking stress and discomfort. Conversely, for those who derive spiritual nourishment from collective experiences, these activities and gatherings resemble more of a “paradise.” Hence, social needs exert an influence on boththe quantity and quality of friendships.
PART 3 The quality of friendships
While the quantity of friendships is influenced by various factors, the quality of friendships is equally, if not more, important. It is the depth, trust, and mutual support within a friendship that truly matters.
1. Emotional intimacy: True friendships are built on emotional intimacy, which involves trust, vulnerability, and the ability to share one’s true thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment. Emotional intimacy fosters a sense of belonging and connection.
2. Mutual support: Friends provide support to each other in times of need. This support can be emotional, practical, or both. True friends are there for each other through thick and thin, offering a listening ear, advice, and assistance when necessary.
3. Shared values and interests: Friends often share common values, beliefs, and interests, which contribute to the depth of their connection. Having shared experiences and enjoying similar activities can strengthen the bond between friends.
4. Communication and understanding: Effective communication is crucial in maintaining healthy friendships. Friends should be able to express themselves openly and honestly, while also listening and understanding each other’s perspectives. Good communication helps resolve conflicts and strengthens the friendship.
5. Longevity: Longevity is not the sole determinant of friendship quality, but it can be an indicator of a strong and enduring bond. Friends who have known each other for a long time have likely weathered various life challenges together, which can deepen their connection.
In summary, while the number of friendships individuals can effectively maintain is limited, the quality of those friendships is paramount. True friendships are built on emotional intimacy, mutual support, shared values and interests, effective communication, and longevity. It is the depth and strength of these relationships that truly matter, rather than the sheer quantity of friends one may have.