6 comments on “Dunbar’s Number, Monkeyspheres and how to design for social

  1. “Dunbar’s number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person”

    How does this behave in multiple small groups? Can my ‘monkeysphere’ become three unconnected groups of friends in different locations? Five guys from work, neighbours at home, family in another state?

  2. Hi Jac, thanks for the comment.

    The Monkeysphere is the cognitive limit in your mind, it has nothing to do with actual physical location. One researcher put it as “The theoretical number of people that any one person could ask for a favor, and expect it to be returned.”

    Taking it a step further, it actually has nothing to do with people currently in your life either. These could be people from your past, from school, that you haven’t spoken to in years.

    So, yes your monkeysphere could be several small groups from different facets of your life. It could also be comprised of childhood friends that you had a strong bond with at one point but could re-enter your life.

    This is one of the social design concept successes contained in network sites such as Facebook. They aim to create connections between those in your Monkeysphere.

    Take a look at how many friends you have on a social network and try to figure out how many are actual friends, probably 100 or less.

    • I was mostly wondering about the effects of reduced interconnection in the friend groups: it seems that part of the limiting cognitive load of a monkeysphere is keeping track of the relationships between the friends. If you have unconnected friends, then this dramatically reduces the complexity of the connections – does this mean that it can hold more people overall? Or is this tracking of “how each person relates to every other person” not really significant?

      • Jac, you just hit on the primary reason why this field of study is so interesting!

        There are several theories about this very question, but the most accepted answer is that the number will NOT change. The people inside of it can be replaced but it is a very slow and gradual process that can take many years. Up to 5-10 years to replace one person!

        It’s not as disposable as you would initially think.

        To take this a step further, there is another school of study that I have seen some theories on, which is an “online” Dunbar Number. In today’s day and age, with so many online games and forums, people can form quasi-close relationships that are very short and intensely close. So maybe your gaming group may contain some very close friends, but not real friends so to speak. Another very interesting realm of sociology and cognitive psychology.

  3. Pingback: Monkeys sphere – den magiske venne grænse | Tyge Mortensen .....blogger her

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