There is a huge difference between real friends and Facebook friends. This fact may not surprise many, but new research from Oxford University found only a small fraction of the average Facebook user’s friend list would even express sympathy for the user in real life.
In his study published last week in the Royal Society Open Science journal, evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar analyzed a survey of 3,375 Facebook users between the ages of 18 and 65. He found that only 14 out of the average user’s 150 Facebook friends would show sympathy for the user in real life while only four could be considered “close friends.”
“Those numbers are mostly similar to how friendships work in real life,” Dunbar writes in his study. “But the huge number of supposed friends on a friend list means that people can be tricked into thinking that they might have more close friends.”
Dunbar is also the scientist who came up with Dunbar’s number, which states that people can only maintain about 150 stable relationships in the real world.
Age was also revealed to be a huge factor that related to the number of Facebook friends each participant had.
According to the study, those in the 18-24 year-old age bracket had 282 more Facebook friends than the overall average of 150.
Dunbar said that this is due to the fact that the younger generation is “less discriminating than adults in defining friendships” and that social networks such as Facebook “typically encourage promiscuous ‘friending’ of individuals who often have very tenuous links to ego (X is a friend [or friend-of-friend-of-a-friend] of Y, so would you like to befriend them?).”
To reinforce friendships, Dunbar recommends meeting friends face to face, as friendships have “a natural decay rate in the absence of contact, and social media may well function to slow down the rate of decay.”