A null model for Dunbar's circles Articles uri icon

publication date

  • May 2020


  • 545


  • An individual"s social group may be represented by their ego-network, formed by the links between the individual and their acquaintances. Ego-networks present an internal structure of increasingly large nested layers (or circles) of decreasing relationship intensity, whose size exhibits a precise scaling ratio. Starting from the notion of limited social bandwidth, and assuming fixed costs for the links in each layer, we propose a null model built on a grand-canonical ensemble that generates the observed hierarchical social structure. The observed internal structure of ego-networks becomes a natural outcome to expect when we assume the existence of layers demanding different amounts of resources. In the thermodynamic limit, reached when the number of ego-network copies is large, the specific layer degrees follow a Poisson distribution. We also find that, under certain conditions, equispaced layer costs are necessary to obtain a constant group size scaling. Our model presents interesting analogies to a Bose–Einstein gas, that we briefly discuss. Finally, we fit and compare the model with an empirical social network.


  • dunbar circles; null model; social networks