R.I.M. Dunbar, ‘The Anatomy of Friendship’, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 22 (2018), 32-51.
Just a brief note on this essay, after a couple of relatively long ones on Predictive Processing and the Free Energy Principle, here (describing a conference), and here (pondering some niche literary implications). Dunbar’s essay is (I think) a superb round-up of psychological studies of friendship. It describes the benefits of friendship to happiness and health; it presents the evidence for the limits to friendship (i.e. how many we can manage at any one time); it discusses the cognitive demands of relationships and how they are met; it talks about the differences between genders as they maintain friendships. One timely twist is an assessment of how the internet is changing friendship: the answer is, not significantly, yet — online networks resemble offline ones more than you might think.
In the literature I tend to study, there are unlikely to be friendship characteristics of the kind being described here, for two reasons. One is that I don’t think the structure of social networks that (perhaps) dates back to the 19th century is quite the same as the one that prevailed in early modern England, the period I study. The other (more concretely) is that the genres I study (drama, poetry, for the most part) are not built to test the possible number, or range, of friendships. It would be in the 19th century novel, I think, that the details of Dunbar’s account could be explored with an interesting historical twist. That’s not on my agenda, but the article is absorbing anyway.