We are the product of our evolutionary history and this colors our everyday lives —including the number of friends we can have—, according to Robin Dunbar, Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford. He says 150 is the maximum number of friendships that the human mind is capable of handling (1). ‘Dunbar’s number’ even applies to the Facebook generation.
Professor Dunbar concludes that the volume (2) of the neocortex region of our brain, used for language and thought, limits the number of friends we can maintain. “This number has not changed much throughout history and applies in the same way on the web as it does in real life.” He even goes as far as to say that anyone who claims to have more is ‘suspect’, as the quality of relationships deteriorates as the social group widens (3).
His research also explores why gossip is good for us. His view is that language allows us to integrate a large number of social relationships and one important means of doing this is through the exchange of information about individuals who are not present. Gossip about relationships accounts for an overwhelming (4) proportion of human conversations, and it plays an important part in how we assess (5) others outside our own close group. We can find out from one person how others are likely to behave, how we should react to them when we actually meet them, and what kind of relationships they have with third parties.
Professor Dunbar’s studies have revealed that, across the birds and mammals, it is monogamous species that have the biggest brains.
READ THE TEXT AND ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS. BE CAREFUL TO FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS FOR EACH QUESTION.
VOCABULARY1. Link each of the words/expressions below with a word/expression in the column (as numbered in the text).
size enlarge evaluate manage vast
(1) handle and manage
(2) volume and size
(3) widen and enlarge
(4) overwhelming and vast
(5) assess and evaluate
2.1. Choose the best option. Copy the complete correct option on your answer sheet.
a) Facebook generation individuals can only hold as many as 150 relationships, on- or offline.
b) Facebook generation individuals are different from previous generations in that the number of relationships their brains can manage has reduced to 150.c) Facebook generation individuals can only handle 150 relationships online and 150 in the real world.
d) The Facebook generation is not different from previous generations as regards the number of relationships their brains can manage.
2.2. Choose the best option. Copy the complete correct option on your answer sheet.
According to Dunbar’s research, …
According to Dunbar’s research, …
a) gossip is saying negative things about other people who are not present in the conversation.
b) gossip can be useful for getting to know people outside your closest circle before meeting them.
c) the purpose of most gossip is to judge people who are not present in the conversation.
d) gossip is the goal of human conversations in which the mentioned person or persons are absent.
3. Complete the sentences using information from the text. Do not reproduce phrases from the text literally, unless this is unavoidable. (Sample answers)
a) The maximum number of friends a person’s brain can handle is around 150 // you can have is around 150, according to Dunbar’s research // etc.b) Dunbar’s number is 150, and it refers to the maximum number of relationships the brain can handle/manage // is based on scientific research and establishes the maximum number of relationships brains can manage // etc.c) Having more than 150 friends or so can be considered suspicious because that means your relationships are not very profound / are superficial // etc.d) Gossip can also be considered positive for human relationships // allows you to know people outside your inner circle before you meet them // etc.
4. Complete each gap with one or more adequate words.
Dunbar recently set out to determine whether/if (a) Facebook or Twitter enable the mind to stretch and handle a greater number of social connections. The answer (b) appears to be negative: “You can have 1,500 friends, but when you actually look at (c) traffic on sites, you see people maintain the same inner circle of around 150 people that we observe in the real world (d).” Dunbar arrived at his number studying social groupings in a variety of societies, from (e) Neolithic villages to modern office environments. In groups larger/bigger (f) than 150, social cohesion begins to disintegrate, Dunbar said.
5. Why is gossip beneficial, according to Dunbar’s research? You are expected to draw information from the text, but please use your own words. (25-50 words)
Because when, in a conversation, you talk about people who are not present, you are learning about these people from the opinions of the people you are chatting with. If they know these other people better than you do, they can tell you how these other people think, behave, react, etc. and so you know what to expect from them when you finally meet them.
6. Do you think social networks are really useful for making friends? Please, use your own ideas and your own words. (25-50 words)
No, I don’t think they are useful for making friends. However, they can be useful if you want to find a person that you used to know but you have lost contact with, and you want to get in contact with this person again. Also, social networks can be useful for keeping in touch with friends or relatives who live far away from you (e.g. in a different city or country), as you can post photos, send messages, etc. that keep them informed about your life.