The Situationist

Friends on the Brain

Posted by Adam Benforado on October 27, 2011

Have a lot of friends on Facebook?

Think that makes you special?

Well, researchers at University College London suggest that you might just be right.

According to a new study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Facebook users with the largest number of pals had greater brain density in areas of the brain associated with social perception and associative memory.

For anyone who has been following the debate over whether technology has been changing our brains, it’s worth a read, although the research doesn’t answer the question of whether the brain differences in the sample were an effect or a cause of individuals having more online friends.

An abstract of the paper appears below:

The increasing ubiquity of web-based social networking services is a striking feature of modern human society. The degree to which individuals participate in these networks varies substantially for reasons that are unclear. Here, we show a biological basis for such variability by demonstrating that quantitative variation in the number of friends an individual declares on a web-based social networking service reliably predicted grey matter density in the right superior temporal sulcus, left middle temporal gyrus and entorhinal cortex. Such regions have been previously implicated in social perception and associative memory, respectively. We further show that variability in the size of such online friendship networks was significantly correlated with the size of more intimate real-world social groups. However, the brain regions we identified were specifically associated with online social network size, whereas the grey matter density of the amygdala was correlated both with online and real-world social network sizes. Taken together, our findings demonstrate that the size of an individual’s online social network is closely linked to focal brain structure implicated in social cognition.

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