Half of Your Friends Don’t Like You

How many friends do you have? How many friends would you like to have? A better question would be how many friends can you have? In the 90s British Anthropologist, Robin Dunbar looked at the correlation between the brain size of different primates and the size of their social groups By extrapolating these numbers to the human brain size Dunbar postulated that the maximum social relationships any human can maintain is around 150

Specifically, Dunbar found that the larger a species’ neocortex, the top part of the brain, the larger social groups that species can maintain This is because each human friendship requires the dedication of a portion of one’s resources The resource of time required to meet with them occasionally so they don’t forget you exist or vice versa The resource of memory, you have to remember a huge amount of details about each one of your friends, foods they do and don’t eat, what type of films and music they like, what angers them, what makes them laugh and cry, what they do for a living, who their partner or spouse is, who their friends are And then there’s the resource of emotional support, at some point, all friends will call upon you for your emotional support in times of need, we all have a limited amount of support and friendly advice to go around, expend too much of it and you will start to feel like a shrink

Put all these factors together and you start to see how maintaining more than 150 relationships isn’t possible for any human Some people can have a few more, or somewhat fewer, but 150 is the general limit imposed by our brains, our biology Look at the world around you and you will start to notice Dunbar’s number everywhere Anthropologists believe the largest tribal groups in our hunter-gatherer days were 150 and it held true thousands of years later, The Doomsday Book showed that the average village size in England was 150 The average number of wedding guests is 141

150 may be how many relationships one can have but in reality, there is a much, much smaller limit on how many close friends you can have – which may be cause for relief if you’re sat there thinking “Wait, I’m supposed to have 150 friends, I have 2” well calm down two is absolutely plenty because in truth the limit is just five In 2007 Robin Dunbar was back at it again, proving we’re all terrible at knowing lots of people By examining the calls logs from the phones of 27,000 Europeans he deducted that people are realistically capable of having five close friendships, including intimate relations In fact, for the average Joe 80% of all their calls are made to the same four people But Thoughty2 I have 325 friends on Facebook and my mate Dave has over 700, but I secretly think he’s a prick

Well, you’ve just nicely illustrated my next point – no you don’t, because they’re not your friends Facebook friends are no more than numbers on a server, go through your friend list and you’ll notice most of them are people you’ve met once and will probably never see again, simply friends of someone you once worked with or most likely people who are supposed to be your friend, but you secretly hate their guts None of these peoples counts as friends – I wish I was sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not – because if you genuinely think they are all close friends and not just casual acquaintances then you have truly undervalued the close bond of a genuine friendship You cannot truly consider someone a friend unless you converse with them face to face on a regular basis and you can rely on them to help you out in times of need and vice versa Now, if anything I’ve said has made you doubt your relationships then you better strap yourself in Sonny because unfortunately, I’ve got more bad news for you

You see, it’s statistically likely that half your friends don’t even like you A study at MIT analysed the relationships between 84 so-called ‘friends’ aged 23 to 38 Everyone was asked to rank everyone else in the study between 0 and 5, 0 meaning ‘I don’t know this person’ and 5 meant ‘They’re one of my best friends’ 94 per cent of people expected their friendships to be reciprocated, but astonishingly only 53 per cent of them actually were This means that half of the people who were supposed to be a participant’s friend said they didn’t actually consider that participant to be their friend

The sample size used in this study was very small but other data sources containing 92,000 individuals say the reciprocity rate of friendships is between 34 to 53 per cent This is rather sad And gives one cause for concern, especially when a study from Harvard University found that having no friends can be just as damaging to your health as smoking But, there is a positive you can take away here You could cull half of your friends from your life and probably be happier

This, of course, means you have to first know who the false friends are, which is easier said than done So before you rock up to work tomorrow and tell everyone in HR to F’off – which you should totally do, by the way, it’s incredibly cathartic – you should probably think it over So how do you know who is only pretending to be your friend? Well, there’s no secret technique here, but one of the most obvious ways is to think whether that person has ever shared a secret with you Sharing a secret with another requires a huge amount of trust which one would only do with someone they admire and respect as a friend Also, when you are with with your group of friends, are you always the one they ask to take the picture, if so then, sorry pal, it’s probably you

However, it’s likely that it wasn’t always this way and that reciprocity levels amongst friendship groups have dropped significantly in recent decades This is because the perceived value of a friendship has dropped with the advent of social media Today a new friendship can be created with a tap or swipe and just as easily removed from our lives In an online world driven by a vicious cycle of instant gratification and game theory, friends are seen as little more than points to collect in the game of life When some people choose to accept a friend request, the thought usually passes through their mind of “How will this make me look better”

The problem is that this is anathema to why homo sapiens evolved to form friendships Why do you think our species out of all Hominids came to dominate all others, why not chimpanzees or our once rivals neanderthal? After all they had larger craniums than sapiens Well, it certainly wasn’t because of our strength over other species, there were many species, bears, lions, chimpanzees and indeed neanderthals that could tear our limbs off like pretty little chicken wings And contrary to what you may think, it wasn’t because of our large brains, if so elephants would be CEOs and politicians, no, even though that is a rather nice image Okay, it was because of our superior intelligence, but it was something far more specific about our intelligence in particular – other species were and still are extraordinarily intelligent

But humans dominated the playing field because of the unique way homo sapiens’ brains evolved to be able to form complex social bonds Other animals, bees, chimpanzees formed social groups but none had the inherent ability to do so quite like homo sapiens Homo sapiens can, and as far as we know this is unique in the animal kingdom, gossip about others behind their back so tribesmen knew who to avoid in their tribe and other tribes And also, we can imagine things that we have never seen before, like when a fellow tribesman described a beautiful waterfall near that big pointy rock over there Our ability to form these super complex social groups and maintain knowledge on who doesn’t like whom, who is willing to protect us when hunting and most importantly: who stole john’s rock? Are the reasons why homo sapiens were able to work together to form groups that collectively were greater and many times more formidable than their sum parts

Friendships allowed us to hunt in groups, protect each other and look after our sick So ask yourself, when you and your best friend are together are you greater than your sum parts? Can you do amazing things together and forge great memories? Could you rely on them in times of need? If not, it’s possible they could be on the negative side of your 50%

About Thoughty2

Thoughty2 (Arran) is a British YouTuber and gatekeeper of useless facts. Thoughty2 creates mind-blowing factual videos, on the weirdest, wackiest and most interesting topics. Combining fascinating lists with answers to life's biggest questions.

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