Despite Social Nets, People Focus On Small, Intimate Connections

From consumers’ collective mobile fixation to social networks that specialize in everything from fading exchanges to rapid-fire casual encounters, technology seems to be changing our social lives faster than ever.   
Yet -- of particular relevance to marketers planning mobile and social investments, in 2014 -- new research suggests that some social practices are immune to change.
For one, technology does not appear to be raising peoples’ naturally low threshold for strong social connections.
As such, despite increasingly easy access to countless social media contacts, people still invest most of their time and energy on correspondences with a small number of close friends and family.
That’s according to new research expected to be released Monday by an international team, including Felix Reed-Tsochas and Robin Dunbar from the University of Oxford, Dr. Sam Roberts from the University of Chester in the UK, and Dr Jari Saramäki from Aalto University, Finland.
Entitled “The persistence of social signatures in human communication,” the research combined survey data as well as mobile phone records, which were used to track changes in the communication networks of 24 students in the UK over 18 months as they made the transition from school to university or work.
At the beginning of the study, researchers “ranked” members of each participant’s social network -- friends and family -- according to emotional closeness.
The researchers found that in all cases, a small number of top-ranked, emotionally close people received a disproportionately large fraction of calls.
The researchers also found that, even though participants’ relationships changed and they made new friends during the intense transition period between school and university or work, individual “social signatures” remained stable.  
Participants continued to make the same number of calls to people according to how they ranked for emotional closeness, although the actual people in their social networks and/or their rankings changed over time.
“As new network members are added, some old network members are either replaced or receive fewer calls,” Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford, explained in the report. “This is probably due to a combination of limited time available for communication and the great cognitive and emotional effort required to sustain close relationships.”
“It seems that individuals’ patterns of communication are so prescribed that even the efficiencies provided by some forms of digital communication (in this case, mobile phones) are insufficient to alter them,” according to Dunbar.

"Shaking hands" photo from Shutterstock.
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