Nav: Home

Key friendships vital for effective human social networks

February 08, 2017

Close friendships facilitate the exchange of information and culture, making social networks more effective for cultural transmission, according to new UCL research that used wireless tracking technology to map social interactions in remote hunter-gatherer populations.

The research demonstrates how increased network efficiency is achieved through investment in a few strong links between non-kin friends connecting unrelated families, as well as showing that strong friendships are more important than family ties in predicting levels of shared knowledge among individuals.

The study, published today in Nature Human Behaviour, was funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

Hunter-gatherers offer the closest existing examples of human lifestyles and social organisation in the past, offering vital insights into human evolutionary history. To map the social networks of populations of Agta and BaYaka hunter-gatherers in Congo and the Philippines, researchers from the Hunter-Gatherer Resilience Project in UCL Anthropology used devices called mote - a wireless sensing technology worn as an armband that can record the interactions a person has in one day.

The motes recorded all one-to-one interactions at two minute intervals for 15 hours a day over a week in six Agta camps in the Philippines (200 individuals, 7, 210 interactions) and three BaYaka camps in the Congo (132 individuals, 3,397 interactions).

With this data, they were able to construct and examine social networks for both groups in unprecedented detail.

Many unique human traits such as high cognition, cumulative culture and hyper-cooperation have evolved due to the social organisation patterns unique to humans.

First author of the study, Dr Andrea Migliano (UCL Anthropology), commented: "Making friends and having a friendship network is an important human adaptation, one that has helped us develop cumulative culture.

"What we see in these hunter-gatherer camps is that people have very strong relationships with their friends - and those relationships are as strong as those with family. These friends connect the different households, facilitating the exchange of information and culture. And it is those connections that make a network efficient."

The analyses show that randomization of interactions among either close kin or extended family did not affect the efficiency of hunter-gatherer networks. In contrast, randomization of friends (non-kin relationships) greatly reduced efficiency.

The researchers also found evidence that friendships began very early in childhood in both populations.

Dr Migliano added: "In contemporary society, we have the technology to expand these social networks, increasing flow of information over much larger numbers of people. This allows humans to co-operate and work together to build wonderful things. Our work illustrates how friendship is one of the secrets to humans' success as a species."
Notes to Editors:

1.) For more information, copies of the paper, video, images or interview requests please contact Ruth Howells in UCL Media Relations on mob: +44 (0)7990 675 947, email:

2.) The research paper 'Characterization of hunter-gatherer networks and implications for cumulative culture' is published in Nature Human Behaviour embargoed until Wednesday 8 February, 1500 UK time (1000 US Eastern)

University College London

Related Relationships Articles:

Positive relationships boost self-esteem, and vice versa
Does having close friends boost your self-esteem, or does having high self-esteem influence the quality of your friendships?
Strong family relationships may help with asthma outcomes for children
Positive family relationships might help youth to maintain good asthma management behaviors even in the face of difficult neighborhood conditions, according to a new Northwestern University study.
Preterm babies are less likely to form romantic relationships in adulthood
Adults who were born preterm (under 37 weeks gestation) are less likely to have a romantic relationship, a sexual partner and experience parenthood than those born full term.
In romantic relationships, people do indeed have a 'type'
Researchers at the University of Toronto show that people do indeed have a 'type' when it comes to dating, and that despite best intentions to date outside that type -- for example, after a bad relationship -- some will gravitate to similar partners.
Advancing dementia and its effect on care home relationships
New research published today in the journal Dementia by researchers from the University of Chichester focuses on the effects of behavioral change due to dementia in a residential care home setting.
More Relationships News and Relationships Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...