They may have hundreds of online ‘friends’, but the Facebook generation only have three or four confidants they can really rely on.
Oxford University researchers said the idea that people have thousands of internet friends is an urban myth. In fact, the average Facebook user has just 150 or so.
But many of these are far from close – and on average we only have four real friends we can count on in times of crisis.
While many of us may have hundred’s of ‘friends’ online, in times of crisis we can only rely upon four real friends, according to a new study that is emphasising the importance of face to face relationships (stock image of a woman comforting a friend is pictured)
Researcher Robin Dunbar, one of the country’s leading evolutionary biologists, studied the results of two surveys involving almost 3,500 Britons.
One group said they had an average of 155 people listed as friends on their Facebook page. The other said they had 183 online pals. Women and younger people were particularly sociable.
WHY YOUR FACEBOOK PROFILE MIGHT HAVE COST YOU A JOB
Employers are secretly selecting job candidates on the basis of how attractive their Facebook profile picture is, a study has found.
Applicants with pictures rated highly attractive on Facebook got 39 per cent more job interview offers than people with the lowest rated photos.
The better looking people were also 21 per cent more likely to get positive feedback – when recruiters asked for more information, or suggested a chat on the phone.
The researchers found the effect was greater when recruiters names on job applications were female, and for jobs requiring high education levels.
However, when asked how many of these supposed friends they would ask for support when times were tough, the number dwindled to just four.
And just 14 of the 150 or so Facebook friends could be relied on to dispense sympathy.
Despite the perception that many people have hundreds or thousands of Facebook friends, fewer than 15 per cent had more than 300, the Royal Society journal Open Science reports.
Professor Dunbar said: ‘Respondents who had unusually large networks did not increase the number of close friendships they had but rather added more loosely declined acquaintances into their friendship circle simply because most social media sites do not allow one to differentiate between the layers.’
It has been argued that by allowing people to make quick and easy contact with lots of people at once, the internet lets us make more friends.
But Professor Dunbar’s figures for Facebook users are similar to those for conventional friendships.
The study also found that while most people believe it is normal to have thousands of friends on Facebook (screen shot pictured), in fact on average we have just 150 pals on the social media site
He said this suggests that just like their offline counterparts, online relationships are constrained by the brain’s ability to juggle them and by the time needed to maintain them.
And when it comes down to it, people generally find digital interactions less satisfying than the real thing because nothing beats actually meeting friends in the flesh.
The professor said: ‘The fact that people do not seem to use social media to increase the size of their social circle suggests that social media may function mainly to prevent friendships decaying over time, in the absence of opportunities for face to face contact.
‘But no amount of social media will prevent a friend eventually becoming ‘just another acquaintance’ if you don’t meet face-to-face from time to time.
‘There is something paramount about face-to-face interactions that is crucial for maintaining friendships.
‘Seeing the white of their eyes from time to time seems to be crucial to the way we maintain friendships.’