Beyond Dunbar circles: a continuous description of social relationships and resource allocation Articles uri icon

publication date

  • February 2022

start page

  • 1

end page

  • 11


  • 2287


  • 12

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 2045-2322


  • We discuss the structure of human relationship patterns in terms of a new formalism that allows to study resource allocation problems where the cost of the resource may take continuous values. This is in contrast with the main focus of previous studies where relationships were classified in a few, discrete layers (known as Dunbars circles) with the cost being the same within each layer. We show that with our continuum approach we can identify a parameter n that is the equivalent of the ratio of relationships between adjacent circles in the discrete case, with a value n-6 . We confirm this prediction using three different datasets coming from phone records, face-to-face contacts, and interactions in Facebook. As the sample size increases, the distributions of estimated parameters smooth around the predicted value of n. The existence of a characteristic value of the parameter at the population level indicates that the model is capturing a seemingly universal feature on how humans manage relationships. Our analyses also confirm earlier results showing the existence of social signatures arising from having to allocate finite resources into different relationships, and that the structure of online personal networks mirrors those in the off-line world.


  • Mathematics


  • applied mathematics; social evolution