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Size and structure of freely forming conversational groups


Data from various settings suggest that there is an upper limit of about four on the number of individuals who can interact in spontaneous conversation. This limit appears to be a consequence of the mechanisms of speech production and detection. There appear to be no differences between men and women in this respect, other than those introduced by women’s lighter voices.

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Correspondence to R. I. M. Dunbar.

Additional information

Robin Dunbar, formerly Professor of BiologicalAnthropology at University College London, is currently Professor of Psychology at the University of Liverpool, where he carries out research on the behavior and ecology of human and nonhuman primates. Neil Duncan M.D. has recently qualified as a medical practitioner. Dan Nettle is carrying out doctoral research on the evolution of language.

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Dunbar, R.I.M., Duncan, N.D.C. & Nettle, D. Size and structure of freely forming conversational groups. Human Nature 6, 67–78 (1995).

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Key words

  • Conversation
  • Group size
  • Speech detection
  • Spacing