Facebook Friends: The More You’ve Got, the Smarter You Are?

FacebookScientists at University College London have found a direct link between the number of friends in a person’s Facebook account and the size of four regions of the brain: The amygdala, the right temporal sucus, the left middle temporal gyrus and the right entorhinal cortex. MRIs show that people with more Facebook friends have more grey matter — the layer of the brain in which mental processing occurs — in these regions.

The “why” behind the findings is a little more elusive: Does having more friends influence the size of these regions, or does increased size predispose a person to having a greater number of friends? Ryota Kanai, one of the UCL researchers involved in the study, told Reuters:

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.

The researchers used MRIs to examine the brains of 125 university students, all active Facebook users. Among the group, the average number of Facebook friends was 300, the highest was around 1,000. They found a significant link between the number of friends and the thickness of grey matter in the regions. With regard to the amygdala, the finding wasn’t surprising: The thickness of grey matter there has been linked to the number of real world friends in the past. The other three regions, however, haven’t been – and it seems that they only relate to online relationships.

Professor Geraint Rees of UCL noted:

Online social networks are massively influential, yet we understand very little about the impact they have on our brains. This has led to a lot of unsupported speculation the Internet is somehow bad for us,” said Geraint Rees of UCL.

This shows we can use some of the powerful tools in modern neuroscience to address important questions — namely, what are the effects of social networks, and online social networks in particular, on my brain.

The study results were published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B in an article titled “Online social network size is reflected in human brain structure.”

6 Responses to “Facebook Friends: The More You’ve Got, the Smarter You Are?”

  1. Interesting study. Would like the study to include socially isolated individuals. To see their brain structure. Would also be interested in the study of people who have sustained a brain injury and to see if the use of social media could increase the size of the brain.

  2. SomeThingSilly

    i find all this very hard to believe. I know very smart people with small facebook circles, and i know a lot of dumbasses with zillions of ‘friends’. And i keep reading about people with just accept all invitations without actually knowing the poeple…
    I think this is total bullshit, at best its some silly ‘social’ science. At worst its an insult to science that this even got published. I suspect their study group was the popular kids facebook friends…

  3. I agree with the comment by “somethingsilly”. There are some things about this study that cry foul. The first is that the sample used is flawed. They used 125 university students. To have a truly meaningful sample, it should have included people from all walks of life. Using only university students restricts the group to those who are on a particular path and limits the usefulness of the findings. There are plenty of high school students, grandparents, career professionals, grocery store cashiers, etc…that use Facebook. You need a cross-section of the Facebook-using population, and also include some who don’t use social media at all, to make this useful if there is in fact a link to brain size. Secondly, the size of certain areas of the brain is assumed to be related to intelligence, but how is intelligence being measured here? I don’t see any IQ stats in this study…just the size in certain areas of the brain. Perhaps the finding isn’t a measure of intelligence at all. Instead, I would suggest that the size of those areas may correlate to now certain types of information (such as long lists) are stored and organized in the brain.

    I am one of the few who still does not use (and refuses to use) Facebook, and I’m a 34-year-old college grad, web developer with an IQ over 170. Does this mean I’m not as smart as another dev who uses Facebook? I don’t think so…

  4. Rubbish. That gey matter must be sludge because No One has that many real friends. The fact is, most FB connections are “indirect” contacts – “friends of friends”. That said, what would make the brain churn is to make lots of blogging psts which stimulate brain function.

  5. I thought this was such an interesting article to consider. There’s so many FB people who add whoever and anyone and it’s fascinating to see this kind of study. I wonder if this study could get a little more light and validity from other factions and researchers too.
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