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Facebook friends don’t count — at least not past 150

How_Many_FriendsSANTA FE, N.M. — Yeah, maybe you think you’re the most popular kid on the block — in the world! — with countless Facebook friends and legions of Twitter followers clinging to your every word.

An Oxford professor is coming to town to shatter your illusions.

Robin Dunbar, director of the Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group, will be at the James A. Little Theater at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to explain: “Why the Internet won’t get you any more friends.”

Blame it on the neocortex, Dunbar says. That social layer of our brain, which developed about a quarter-million years ago and hasn’t changed a whole lot since, simply can’t handle more than about 150 friends total. His theory’s so famous that’s called the “Dunbar number.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, he’s said that’s about the size of villages many people lived in around that time. Boost your number of associates beyond that, and social bonds begin breaking down, according to online stories on his research.

Can’t that number change? Depends on what you mean by a friend. According to a definition he gives in 2010 in an article about his book on the University of Oxford website, a friend, essentially, is someone who is likely to be willing to do you a favor: “people with whom you have a personalised relationship, one that is reciprocal and based around general obligations of trust and reciprocity.”

In other words, friends beyond those closest 150 — which seems like an extraordinary number of friends under my definition — probably won’t lend you money or go to your funeral.

Dunbar’s appearance in Santa Fe is free to the public and sponsored by the Santa Fe Institute.