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Friendship networks are the reason why human civilization developed

Posted February 13, 2017

Having friends is very important for all of us. They help us when we need it and support us in our endeavours. However, friendship for humans is much more important than we previously realized. A new study from UCL revealed that friendship makes real social networks more effective and this principle works in remote primitive communities as well.

Strong friendships help spreading information and cultural knowledge, which is how common cultures were created. Image credit: Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon via Wikimedia, CC BY 2.0

Our idea of friendship is changing with the rise of social media. However, it does not have to be that easy for social networks to be effective. Researchers used some wireless tracking technology to map social interactions in remote hunter-gatherer populations and found that friendships help sharing information and cultural knowledge. This research revealed how two non-kin individuals could spark a friendship that would create a link between two unrelated families. In fact, scientists reached a conclusion that in many cases when it comes to sharing information and knowledge, strong friendships are more important than family ties. Scientists analysed Agta and BaYaka hunter-gatherers in Congo and the Philippines to get this information.

Such remote communities are the closest example of social structures from the beginning of human history. A large number of social interactions in different camps have been recorded an analysed to draw a virtual map of existing social networks in these communities. Scientists say that they managed to construct and examine social networks for both groups in such high detail for the first time. And that is important because our high cognition, cooperation and common culture evolved together with our social networks that are uniquely human. And so, in order to have a common culture, people have to share what they know about it being created. That is why friendships are so important, because they bridge gaps between separate families.

Scientists found that friendships spark very early in childhood and are very stable throughout the time of people’s lives. Dr Andrea Migliano, first author of the study, said: “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”. Friendship in our case is the key to success of our species.

It is hard to imagine how human world would look like without a common culture – it is so natural for us that in one way or another it simply had to evolve. It turns out, friendships were the most important factor in the formation of it.


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