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Robin Dunbar on the Science of Friendship

The world-renowned psychologist explains the way different types of friendship and family relationships intersect and just how complicated the business of making and keeping friends actually is

Robin Dunbar is the world-renowned psychologist and author who famously discovered Dunbar’s number: how our capacity for friendship is limited to around 150 people. On March 11 he comes to Intelligence Squared to explain why friends matter to us – more than we think. The single most surprising fact to emerge out of the medical literature over the last decade or so has been that the number and quality of the friendships we have has a bigger influence on our happiness, health and even mortality risk than anything else except giving up smoking.

Exploring the themes of his new book Friends, Dunbar will explain the way different types of friendship and family relationships intersect, the complex of psychological and behavioural mechanisms that underpin friendships and make them possible – and just how complicated the business of making and keeping friends actually is.

Mixing insights from scientific research with first person experiences and culture, he will share his insights from disciplines ranging from psychology and anthropology to neuroscience and genetics.



Robin Dunbar

Acclaimed evolutionary psychologist and author of How Religion Evolved: And Why It Endures

Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Oxford. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Anthropological Institute, and an elected Foreign Member of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters. He has been awarded the Osman Hill Medal and the Huxley Medal. His popular science books include How Many Friends Does One Person Need? and Human Evolution, and have been translated into a dozen languages. His latest book is How Religion Evolved: And Why It Endures. 

Helen Czerski

One of the UK’s most popular science presenters

British oceanographer, physicist and television presenter. Her many programmes for radio and TV include Radio 4’s Inside Science, Orbit: Earth’s Extraordinary Journey, numerous Horizon documentaries, The Sky at Night, and Dara O Briain’s Science Club. She is a Research Fellow at University College London, and holds a PhD in experimental explosives physics. She is the author of Storm In A Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life. She gave the 2020 Royal Institution's annual Christmas lecture on the workings of the world's oceans and how they serve as the heart of our planetary life support system.


Speakers are subject to change.