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We know having friends is generally good for your happiness and mental well-being. Likewise, keeping socially active and engaging in formal social activities like volunteering has been linked to better mental health.

But it is also possible to have (or do) too much of a good thing. In a recent study, we tracked people aged 50 and older from 13 European countries over a two-year period to explore how volunteering, education, involvement in religious or political groups, or participating in sport or social clubs influenced their mental health.

We also looked at how many close social relationships people had — the kind of relationships in which they would discuss important personal matters. We found social activities especially benefited individuals who were relatively socially isolated (with three or fewer close relationships).

For people with a higher number of close relationships, engaging in social activities did not appear to enhance mental health. It could even be detrimental for some.

Read the full article on The Conversation website, co-authored by Professor Robin Dunbar (Department of Experimental Psychology)

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