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Social network size in humans

By R. A. Hill and R. I. M. Dunbar


This paper examines social network size in contemporary Western society based on the exchange of Christmas cards. Maximum network size averaged 153.5 individuals, with a mean networks size of 124.9 for those individuals explicitly contacted; these values are remarkably close to the group size of 150 predicted for humans on the basis of the size of their neocortex. Age, household type, and the relationship to the individual influence network structure, although the proportion of kin remained relatively constant at around 21%. Frequency of contact between network members was primarily determined by two classes of variable: passive factors (distance, work colleagues, overseas) and active factors (emotional closeness, genetic relatedness). Controlling for the influence of passive factors on contact rates allowed the hierarchical structure of human social groups to be delimited. These findings suggest that there may be cognitive constraints on network size.The full-text of this article is not currently available in ORA, but the original publication is available at (which you may be able to access via the publisher copy link on this record page). Citation: Hill, R. A. & Dunbar, R. I. M. (2003). 'Social network size in humans', Human Nature 14(1), 53-72. N.B. Prof Dunbar is now based at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford

Topics: Anthropology, frequency of contact, group size, humans, neocortex size, social networks
Year: 2003
DOI identifier: 10.1007/s12110-003-1016-y
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