Can you Count On Your Facebook Friends? Study Suggests Only 28 Out Of 150 Online Friends Are Real

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Jan 31, 2016 06:47 PM EST

You can count on your hand the number of your real friends on Facebook, according to a study.

Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at Oxford University Robin Dunbar has undertaken a research effort to know if the size of a person's social media network correlates to the number of friends he or she has in real life as a reaction to the "dramatic revolution in our social world."

Dunbar's findings revealed that, while the average Facebook user may have hundreds or thousands of friends, only a small number "can be counted on during tough times," according to a report by Forbes.

The study further revealed that, while younger users tend to have more friends online, older ones are more likely to have more real life friends. This is because social media promotes the "promiscuous 'friending' of individuals who often have very tenuous links."

Moreover, time is also considered a restriction which limits face-to-face interactions. Investing in a relationship is difficult if there is a lack of face-to-face encounter which is essential for maintaining a certain level of "emotional intensity." In addition, online environments also limit focus which is equally significant in relationships.

Dunbar -- who theorizes that people can maintain only about 150 stable relationships -- studied the data of 3,375 subjects ages 18 to 65 in the United Kingdom in his research titled "Do Online Social Media Cut Through The Constraints That Limit The Size Of Offline Social Networks." The aforementioned users had an average of about 150 friends. However, out of those 150, only an average of 28 was recognized as genuine friends, according to Fox News.

Further limiting the definition of friend, the participants were asked: "how many of those friends would help out in a time of need, emotional distress or other crisis." An average of four friends were lifted from the answers and around 14 would at least express sympathy.

"In this study, the sizes of the two inner friendship circles did not differ from those previously identified in offline samples," explained Dunbar. "Respondents who had unusually large networks did not increase the numbers of close friendships they had, but rather added more loosely defined acquaintances into their friendship circle," he added.

According to Dunbar, friendships have a natural decay rate should contact cease to happen. While social media can slow it down, it's not enough to prevent relationships from dying naturally if face-to-face interaction is not reinforced in the friendship.

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