In Defense of Keeping Your Inner Circle Small
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The In Crowd1 of 6
By Brienne Walsh
No need to feel guilty that out of your circle of friends and acquaintances, you really only make an effort to see a few of them. According to a recent study by Felix Reed-Tsochas of the University of Oxford's Saïd Business School, most people have very small inner circles, even if their number of Facebook friends suggests otherwise. Using Reed-Tsochas' research, we point out the benefits of having a few close pals—and give you an excuse to cancel plans with that college acquaintance you haven't seen in months.
Dialed In2 of 6
For the study, Reed-Tsochas and a group of researchers gave 24 young adults in Finland a pre-paid cell phone that they were asked to use for 18 months. Every single one of them only called a few people very frequently—these were the friends and family members in their inner circle.
In & Out3 of 6
These results didn't change over time—if a subject had five people in his or her inner circle at the beginning of the study, then at the end, they had the same number of friends, even if those friends weren't the same people. In other words, if they moved over the course of the 18 months, and made new friends, those new friends would have to replace old ones. For the most part, it goes against human nature to go from having four friends to eight just because there are more options.
Time & Energy4 of 6
Reed-Tsochas hypothesizes that the number of close confidants you have is constrained by your time, as well as the emotional and mental effort it takes for you to maintain a friendship. The effort required varies from person to person—some of us max out at two or three close friends, while others can handle more.
Social Studies5 of 6
If the study teaches us anything, it's that social networks like Facebook and Twitter don't make us any more capable of maintaining intimate friendships. What they do instead is allow you to maintain casual contact with far-flung acquaintances, without changing your behavior with your inner circle.
Quality Control6 of 6
The bottom-line? Technology may be changing the way we interact with each other, but it can't rewire our personalities. If you're the sort of person who only has one or two close friends, no amount of Facebook time will change that—and if you're the rare breed who can maintain dozens of relationship at once, we bow to your fortitude.