You may have hundreds or even thousands of Facebook friends, but chances are that the vast majority of them would turn their backs on you in a flash if you were truly in need, or at least that's what a recent study suggests. Research from Oxford University’s Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary psychology, found that most people are terrible at maintaining relationships with their Facebook friends. In addition, the actual number of Facebook friends that a person can rely on or have a true "emotional connection" with is similar in number to the friends that you have in the real world face-to-face interactions.
This should really shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone reading this, as many Facebook “friends” are often acquaintances at best. Dunbar’s research found the average Facebook user had roughly 150 friends, and careful analysis found that of those 150, only 14 would express sympathy in the event of tragedy or a downturn in one’s life. Even more telling is that you can only hope to count on four of your Facebook friends for emotional support during a crisis.
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Dunbar also found that the way we organize our friends in our online world closely mirrors that off the offline world. If you think of your Facebook friends list as concentric circles, the inner circle would consist of your five closest friends — the ones that you can most depend on for physical and emotional support in a time of need. From there, the circles extend out to 15, 50 and 150 friends, with each layer become less emotionally attached compared to the inner circle, based on a lack of time to devote to maintaining the relationships.
“This suggests that, as originally proposed by the social brain hypothesis, there is a cognitive constraint on the size of social networks that even the communication advantages of online media are unable to overcome,” writes Dunbar. “In practical terms, it may reflect the fact that real (as opposed to casual) relationships require at least occasional face-to-face interaction to maintain them.”
So the next time you reach out to Facebook for comfort, just remember that just a fraction of your friends will truly become that digital shoulder that you need to lean on.