The dynamics of friendship in the offline and online worlds

Robin Dunbar

Speaker: Robin Dunbar

Time: 2020-02-25 16:00 to 17:00

Place: PI, Porthania, University of Helsinki, Yliopistonkatu 3, Helsinki


The next lecture in the Helsinki Distinguished Lecture Series on Future Information Technology will be given by Professor Robin Dunbar from the University of Oxford. The lecture is free of charge and open to everyone.


As one of the most intensely social species, friendships are central to our success as individuals and as a species. In the face-to-face offline world where our sociality, and the psychological mechanisms that underpin this, has evolved over many hundreds of thousands of years, time imposes severe constraints on our abilities to interact with many people. Out of sight quickly becomes out of mind. The internet, and especially social media, offers the opportunity to break through these constraints so as to dramatically increase the size of our global village. But has this promissory note been fulfilled? And if not, why not? I shall suggest that the constraint lies as much in our psychology as it does in the constraints of time. Nonetheless, a better understanding of how these constraints work may provide better insights into how social media might be employed to greater advantage.

About the SpeakerRobin Dunbar

Robin Dunbar is Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of Magdalen College, and an elected Fellow of the British Academy. His research is concerned with trying to understand the behavioural, cognitive and neuroendocrinological mechanisms that underpin social bonding in primates (in general) and humans (in particular). Understanding these mechanisms, and the functions that relationships serve, will give us insights how humans have managed to create large scale societies using a form of psychological that is evolutionarily adapted to very small scale societies, and why these mechanisms are less than perfect in the modern world. This has implications for the design of social networking sites as well as mobile technology.

Professor Dunbar is best known for the social brain hypothesis, the gossip theory of language evolution, and Dunbar’s Number (the limit on the number of relationships that we can manage). His popular science books include Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language, The Human Story, How Many Friends Does One Person Need? Dunbar’s Number and Other Evolutionary Quirks, and The Science of Love and Betrayal. His latest book, Evolution: What Everyone Needs to Know, will be published in April 2020 by Oxford University Press.