rscn4338Do you know about Dunbar’s number?

A British anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, studied the size of stable social groups and concluded in the 1990s that an individual’s preferred number of people is 150.

Neolithic farming villages supposedly were that size, the basic operating units of armies since Roman times have been and are that size, and modern work-place studies are said to have concluded that 150 people is the ideal size for a business, etc.

Actually, the key Roman unit was the centuria, of about 80 men, commanded by a centurion, and they lived in groups of eight to a tent. In the current army of the USA, the basic unit is the squad of about 10, then the platoon of about 30, and only then do you get to the ‘company’ of 100-150 men. It is also telling that in combat, when soldiers are really soldiers, these numbers usually drop. So I’m a little sceptical here.

Anyway, his conclusion seems to be that humanity evolved to live in groups of 150, more or less.

That ignores the fact that fossil evidence for early hominids doesn’t support such a number. You only find fossil remains of groups larger than the nuclear family beginning about 50,000 years ago, yet Homo Sapiens is supposed to be at least 200,000 years old. The few remaining hunter-gatherers have usually lived in small families too, except for those like the plains Indians who followed great herds of buffalo.

Dunbar’s number probably does fit most modern populations, but what bothers me is that there seems to be no recognition in this that some people don’t fit it at all.

For example, I would say my maximum is about 15. I’ve never been able to associate regularly with more people than that. And, as an antidote to that 15, I’ve had to interrupt my social life from time to time with lone walkabouts of several months, reducing them to a few days after I got married and had children.

Despite 40 + years working in the insurance claims industry, I’ve never been able to relate to anything like 150 people, even via email, etc. I almost never visit my Facebook or Linked-In pages, and I’ve never been on Twitter.

I know there are others like me. They buy my books and send me email.

What do you think your Dunbar number is? Don’t feel obliged to accept 150. I don’t.










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