Constraints on Social Networks

Sam G. B. Roberts

in Social Brain, Distributed Mind

Published by British Academy

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780197264522
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734724 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

Constraints on Social Networks

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In both modern humans and non-human primates, time and cognitive constraints place an upper bound on the number of social relationships an individual can maintain at a given level of intensity. Similar constraints are likely to have operated throughout hominin evolution, shaping the size and structure of social networks. One of the key trends in human evolution, alongside an increase in brain size, is likely to have been an increase in group size, resulting in a larger number of social relationships that would have to be maintained over time. The network approach demonstrates that relationships should not be viewed as dyadic ties between two individuals, but as embedded within a larger network of ties between network members. Together with relationships based on kinship, this may have allowed for larger groups to be maintained among hominins than would be possible if such networks were based purely on dyadic ties between individuals.

Keywords: time constraints; cognitive constraints; social relationships; dyadic ties; kinship; hominins

Chapter.  8155 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Psychology

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