More Facebook Friends Lead to Increased Brain Size

Recent scientific study gives new meaning to letting popularity go straight to your head.

More Facebook Friends Lead to Increased Brain Size

Remember when the sheer volume of your Facebook friends actually mattered in terms of social standing? In retrospect it made even less sense than being concerned with popularity in high school. But when the social networking website debuted people put a strange importance on stockpiling friends — actually knowing these people was relatively inconsequential. These acquaintances whom we never met were given the term “Facebook friends.” If you were popular or really good looking, you’re probably quite familiar with these people — they’re the commoners’ version of groupies.

Over time, as Facebook’s reach expanded and profiles became more public, the importance of having a lot of Facebook friends became mostly insignificant (as they always should have been). These days we all Facebook video chat with our real friends drinking our double chai macchiatos and laugh about the days we friended good-looking people for entirely superficial reasons. Right?

Well, as it turns out, having a million Facebook friends might not be so pointless after all. According to a recent scientific study there is a correlation between Facebook friends and brain size — the more friends you have the bigger your brain.

Scientists have found a direct link between the number of “friends” a person has on Facebook and the size of certain brain regions, raising the possibility that using online social networks might change our brains.

The four brain areas involved are known to play a role in memory, emotional responses and social interactions.

So far, however, it is not possible to say whether having more Facebook connections makes particular parts of the brain larger or whether some people are simply pre-disposed, or “hard-wired”, to have more friends.

“The exciting question now is whether these structures change over time — this will help us answer the question of whether the Internet is changing our brains,” said Ryota Kanai of University College London UCL.L, one of the researchers involved in the study.

Kanai and colleagues used magnetic resonance imaging MRI.L to study the brains of 125 university students, all of them active users of social media site Facebook, and cross-checked their findings in a further group of 40 students.

They discovered a strong connection between the number of Facebook friends and the amount of “grey matter” in the amygdala, the right superior temporal sulcus, the left middle temporal gyrus and the right entorhinal cortex. Grey matter is the layer of brain tissue where mental processing occurs.

Steve Jobs might be able to claim that he changed the way we live; but in time Mark Zuckerberg might be able to claim that he changed the way our brains actually function. While social networking sites like Facebook are stunting the way we communicate in one-on-one situations we might be gaining brain functionality.

Scientists are just beginning to research the influence of highly addictive social networking on our minds. Since they’re just tapping the surface of discovering its effects it has become common to assume that Facebook is causing us more harm than good. However, according to this recent study it might be just the opposite.

Nevertheless not everyone is convinced by the “Facebook makes us smarter” theory. Heidi Johansen-Berg of the University of Oxford states that there is still no evidence as to whether the internet makes us smarter or dumber; and adding 100 Facebook friends today will not make your brain bigger tomorrow.

But there’s no evidence that say it’ll make you’re brain shrink, either.