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The social brain hypothesis (an explanation for the evolution of brain size in primates) predicts that humans typically cannot maintain more than 150 relationships at any one time. The constraint is partly cognitive (ultimately determined by some aspect of brain volume) and partly one of time. Friendships (but not necessarily kin relationships) are maintained by investing time in them, and failure to do so results in an inexorable deterioration in the quality of a relationship. The Internet, and in particular the rise of social networking sites (SNSs), raises the possibility that digital media might allow us to circumvent some or all of these constraints. This allows us to test the importance of these constraints in limiting human sociality. Although the recency of SNSs means that there have been relatively few studies, those that are available suggest that, in general, the ability to broadcast to many individuals at once, and the possibilities this provides in terms of continuously updating our understanding of network members' behaviour and thoughts, do not allow larger networks to be maintained. This may be because only relatively weak quality relationships can be maintained without face-to-face interaction.

Original publication




Journal article


Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci

Publication Date





2192 - 2201


Biological Evolution, Brain, Cognition, Emotions, Friends, Humans, Internet, Interpersonal Relations, Organ Size, Social Behavior, Social Environment, Social Networking, Time Factors