People Keep Same Number Of Friends
January 7, 2014

Make New Friends, But Keep The Old? New Study Claims Otherwise

[ Watch the Video: People Unconsciously Limit Their Social Circles ]

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

People unconsciously limit their social circles, giving preference to family and close friends while limiting the number of others they interact with regularly, according to new research appearing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online early edition (PNAS).

According to the study’s authors, people essentially maintain a “one-in, one-out” policy when it comes to their social networks making sure that their communication patterns remain the same even if the actual friendships themselves change. It holds true, even though online social media and mobile technology has made it easier to communicate with large groups of people, the researchers added.

“Although social communication is now easier than ever, it seems that our capacity for maintaining emotionally close relationships is finite,” explained Felix Reed-Tsochas, the James Martin Lecturer in Complex Systems at the University of Oxford.

“While this number varies from person to person, what holds true in all cases is that at any point individuals are able to keep up close relationships with only a small number of people, so that new friendships come at the expense of 'relegating' existing friends,” he added.

Reed-Tsochas and colleagues from the University of Oxford and the University of Chester monitored changes in the communication networks amongst 24 UK students over an 18-month span. During that time, the students were either transitioning from high school to college, or beginning their careers by finding employment.

At the beginning of the study, the members of each participant’s friends and family were ranked in terms of emotional closeness, and over the 18-month period the investigators combined survey data and detailed information obtained from mobile phone call records in order to track changes to those social circles.

“They discovered that, in all cases, a small number of top-ranked, emotionally close people received a disproportionately large fraction of calls,” the University of Oxford explained. “Within this general pattern, however, there was clear individual-level variation. Each participant had a characteristic ‘social signature’ that depicted their particular way of allocating communication across the members of their social network.”

Even though the relationships of the study participants changed, and they made new friends during the transitional period, the study authors found that the social signatures remained the same. Participants kept making the same amount of calls to people, on average, based on how they were ranked for emotional closeness – even though the actual people included in their social networks and/or their ratings were subject to change.

“As new network members are added, some old network members are either replaced or receive fewer calls,” Oxford evolutionary psychology professor Robin Dunbar said.

“This is probably due to a combination of limited time available for communication and the great cognitive and emotional effort required to sustain close relationships,” he added. “It seems that individuals' patterns of communication are so prescribed that even the efficiencies provided by some forms of digital communication (in this case, mobile phones) are insufficient to alter them.”