Everyone hates that girl who says she has a million best friends. Telling people that you have a ton best friends is basically the same as saying you’re soooo popular and that soooo many people just love and adore you so much that you can’t bear to break it down to single digits. It’s the definition of a humble brag.
Now, we can hate that girl who says she has a million best friends a little more because science says she’s a liar. Obviously, everyone already knew she was lying, but researchers at MIT proved that it’s impossible to have more than five best friends. Our brains are literally not big enough to have such a meaningful relationship with more than five people.
Like any social and behavioral research, it all started with animals. In the 1990s, British anthropologist Robin Dunbar noticed that there seemed to be a connection between primate brain size and how big their social groups were. Bigger brain = more friends, because bigger brains are capable of remembering people, which leads to more meaningful interactions. Dunbar applied his research to humans and predicted that humans can only have a total of about 150 people in their social sphere.
Here’s how he broke that number down:
Individuals, he says, generally have up to five people in the closest layer. The next closest layer contains an additional 10, the one beyond that an extra 35, and the final group another 100. So cumulatively, the layers contain five, 15, 50, and 150 people.
Five BFFs, ten close friends, 35 people friends, and 100 other acquaintances. I think when you apply this to Greek life, that last number is bigger because literally everyone knows everyone, but in the real world, this theory checks out.
Dunbar tested this theory by examining six billion calls made by 35 million people from an unnamed European country in 2007 (because literally no one talks on the phone these days), and the results proved that Dunbar was pretty spot on with his prediction: “The average cumulative layer turns out to hold 4.1, 11.0, 29.8, and 128.9 users.”
I always knew there was something fishy about Taylor Swift and her squad of BFFs, and now I know why. Only 4.1-5 of those friends are true BFF status. If we include all three of the Haim sisters, that means there’s only room for one, maybe two, more. Who makes the cut? Selena Gomez? Lily Aldridge? Lorde? Martha Hunt? Olivia and Meredith, Taylor’s cats? Definitely the last two.
So there you have it. The next time someone tries to tell you they have 20 best friends, just tell them that’s impossible because they have a small brain. That should go over well. .
[via MIT Technology Review]