There is a huge difference between your real friends and online friends. Even if you've managed to rack up hundreds of friends on Facebook, it doesn't mean you're likely to have more friends in real life, according to new research.

"Although the numbers of friends people have on [social networking] sites can be massive, the actual number of close friends is approximately the same in the face to face real world," psychologist Will Reader, from Sheffield Hallam University, told The Guardian newspaper.

Facebook friendliness

Reader has studied the phenomenon of social networking websites such as MySpace, Bebo and Facebook. His research group has looked at how such sites affect the number of friends and acquaintances a person has.

It's not uncommon for MySpace or Facebook users to have hundreds, if not thousands, of so-called 'friends'. Will Reader and his colleagues found that social networking websites seem to make it easier to expand your circle of friends, mainly because it's easy to keep in touch with people online.

But the number of close friends a user has doesn't seem to increase. It will actually be similar to, or the same as the amount people had before registering on the site.

Remember real life?

Reader's study also found that about 90 per cent of a person's 'online friends' are likely to be people they've met in real life.

"It's easier to spot honest signals when meeting someone face-to-face using facial and bodily cues," Reader explained, "whereas it's harder to spot dishonest signals online".

Previous research has shown that the average person has around 150 friends, ranging from close personal friends to people you've only met once or twice. But most people don't have more than around five close friends.