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Number of Facebook Friends Related to Brain Structure, Study Says

By Periscope @periscopepost

Number of Facebook friends related to brain structure, study says

Quick! Get more friends and your brain will grow massive! Photo credit: Dave Rutt

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B and carried out by researchers at University College London, scanned the brains of 125 university students and compared the results to the number of ‘friends’ each student had on social networking site Facebook. Reuters reported that they discovered a significant relationship between friend count and amount of “grey matter”, the layer of brain tissue where mental processing occurs, in four regions of the brain, relating to memory, social interactions and emotional responses. The grey matter content of just one of these areas, the amygdala, “was also linked to the number of real-world friends people had.”

A new scientific frontier. The BBC quoted Professor Geraint Rees, who led the research, saying “this should allow us to start asking intelligent questions about the relationship between the internet and the brain.” In the past there has been much speculation about what, if any, effect the “ubiquitous” online social networks may be having on our brains, and this study may open the way to investigating this. Dr John Williams from the Wellcome Trust, which funded the research, said this study “illustrates how well-designed investigations can help us begin to understand whether or not our brains are evolving as they adapt to the challenges posed by social media.”

No causal link. Dr Heidi Johansen-Berg, from the University of Oxford, has not been won over by the research, pointing to the weak relationship found between Facebook friend count and “real world.” “Perhaps the number of Facebook friends you have is more strongly related to how much time you spend on the internet, how old you are, or what mobile phone you have”, she suggested. The study shows a correlation between certain aspects of brain structure and Facebook friend numbers, but does not show any evidence that there is a functional link between the two.

Previous research. Other research has shown links between the size of certain brain sections and social interaction, reported The Guardian, which pointed to cross-species observations that showed a correlation between social capacities and the volume of the neocortex (a region of the brain), in several primate species. Baroness Greenfield has repeatedly warned that “social networking websites [are] causing alarming changes in the brains of young users”, The Daily Mail reported. Dr Johansen-Berg, however, says that this research “cannot tell us whether using the internet is good or bad for our brains.” No need to delete your Facebook account just yet, then.

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