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Psychology of Relationships, Networks and Community Cohesion


The contemporary urban social environment contains an inherent contradiction at its heart: we live in very large social communities, but our natural community size (as reflected in the size of our personal social networks) is very small (~150, now known as Dunbar’s Number). I argue that a tension between prosociality (facilitating social cohesion in small communities) and selfishness (the individualism that undermines cohesion in very large communities) is responsible for much of the dysfunctionality that lies at the heart of contemporary urban society. This project proposes a novel multi-disciplinary approach to exploring the processes that underpin the social relationships on which community cohesion is based. It will do this through a series of experimental and sociological studies of interpersonal relationships and the cognitive and neurobiological mechanisms that underpin them, based on integrating theory from evolutionary, cognitive, social and neuro-psychology, combined with insights from evolutionary economics and sociological network analysis. Doing so will allow us to ask whether we can extend the mechanisms involved to enable greater social cohesiveness in modern urbanised societies – probably the single most difficult issue that we currently face. In addition, the findings will have implications for how businesses and other public organisations are structured, as well as the design of digital communication technology. Lastly, by drawing on a range of different social science disciplines, I hope it will be possible to develop a framework for building a more integrated social sciences that can compete more effectively with the mainstream sciences.

Call for proposal

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Wellington square university offices
OX1 2JD Oxford
United Kingdom

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South East (England) Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Oxfordshire
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Administrative Contact
Gill Wells (Ms.)
Principal investigator
Robin Ian Macdonald Dunbar (Prof.)
EU contribution
No data

Beneficiaries (1)