Five years back, I conducted a social network experiment. The premise of the experiment was as follows

“I wanted to figure out how many people in my network I could call up and ask for 500 rupees without any hesitation. In other words, I wanted to find out how many would do a ‘no questions asked’ spend on me and also find out how many I would ask. For some reasons I wished to call this as ‘Effective Social Network Count’ (ESNC) and the total value that I could get as ‘Effective Social Net worth’ somehow drawn from the ‘Portfolio Net worth’. I also wanted to find out the ESNC of people who I could call up. “

My hypothesis was

“The number for me and any given individual would be significantly less than their network size.”


I sent the above premise to around 32 individuals and surprisingly except for one individual the rest of the ESNC was less than 20, and the average ESNC was between 10-11. The outlier’s ESNC was at 81, and surprisingly he was least socially ‘connected’ amongst the 32 individuals.

The people whom I had sent had an average Facebook Friends of more than 350 and average linked in connections more than 200. Even my friend’s connections were around the same number.

Though my hypothesis was proven right, the survey opened up more questions than it answered and the following questions are still running in my mind

  • Will network structure have an effect? For example, suppose you have heavy influencer in your network, will your ESNC change?
  • Is there any correlation between the size of the network and ESNC?
  • Will the responses be different for linked in and facebook network? Will the ESNC increase or decrease?
  • Will the ESNC be dependent on the demographics, cultural factors and the personality of the individual?
  • Is this even a meaningful study?

That is when I stumbled upon the Dunbar Number.

Borrowing from Wikipedia, the Dunbar number is defined as follows

Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships—relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person. This number was first proposed in the 1990s by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who found a correlation between primate brain size and average social group size. By using the average human brain size and extrapolating from the results of primates, he proposed that humans can comfortably maintain only 150 stable relationships. Dunbar explained it informally as “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.”

So if I could rephrase the last sentence as and ask you a question

“What is the number of people whose house you would walk in unannounced and ask for a cup of coffee/tea”?

what is your answer?

This question and the question I asked in my experiment about ESN is not different.

I would peg my Dunbar number in the range of 35 to 40.

The paradox I see is that my Dunbar number has not increased significantly with time or the numbers indicated in my social network(Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram,…). They keep increasing inadvertently.

Rather, I have seen a decrease in my Dunbar number over a period . The other observation I have is that my Dunbar number is not a function of my connections in the social network or to put in bluntly, it is indifferent to my social network.

So what do you think?

  • What is your Dunbar number?
  • Is it a function of the connections in your social network?
  • Do you think there are biases in the framing of questions and understanding of the inferences?
  • Do you think my number is low because I am introverted?
  • Is your Dunbar number increasing or decreasing over time?
  • Is there a co-relation between your Dunbar Number and ESNC?

Thinking about this number, gave me interesting insights about the circles of my relationships. Though the number itself is absolute, I infer there is a layering to that number, and I shall discuss the layers in detail next week.

Till then,

See if you can validate your Dunbar Number(s) by walking in unannounced and asking for a cup of coffee/tea?

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)