Dunbar's Number: Group Size and Brain Physiology in Humans Reexamined

Weston, Gavin; Ruiter, Jan Peter and Lyon, Stephen M. 2011. Dunbar's Number: Group Size and Brain Physiology in Humans Reexamined. American Anthropologist, 113(4), pp. 557-568. ISSN 0002-7294 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Popular academic ideas linking physiological adaptations to social behaviors are spreading disconcertingly into wider societal contexts. In this article, we note our skepticism with one particularly popular—in our view, problematic—supposed causal correlation between neocortex size and social group size. The resulting Dunbar's Number, as it has come to be called, has been statistically tested against observed group size in different primate species. Although there may be reason to doubt the Dunbar's Number hypothesis among nonhuman primate species, we restrict ourselves here to the application of such an explanatory hypothesis to human, culture-manipulating populations. Human information process management, we argue, cannot be understood as a simple product of brain physiology. Cross-cultural comparison of not only group size but also relationship-reckoning systems like kinship terminologies suggests that although neocortices are undoubtedly crucial to human behavior, they cannot be given such primacy in explaining complex group composition, formation, or management.

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Research Office > REF2014


December 2011Published

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Date Deposited:

11 Oct 2013 12:11

Last Modified:

12 Feb 2019 10:56

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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