Think Facebook is just impacting your social life? Think again. New research suggests Facebook may be changing your brain.
Researchers at the University College London have found a connection between the number of Facebook friends a person has and the amount of “grey matter” in the amygdala, the sulcus, the left middle temporal gyrus, the right entorhinal cortex, and the superior temporal sulcus. “Grey matter” in the brain is the layer where mental processing takes place. While the study uses Facebook as an example, the results point to the impacts the Internet and social networking may be having on our brains.
The study titled “Online Social Network Size is Reflected in Human Brain Structure” used magnetic resonance imaging, more commonly known as an MRI, to study 125 university students who were Facebook users. The researchers took the results from the brains’ of the Facebook users and compared them to another group of 40 students.
In (very) scientific terms, the abstract summarizes their findings: “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.” The abstract concludes: “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.” The study also linked the thickness of the grey matter in the amygdala to the number of “real-world” friends people have. However, according to Reuters “the size of the other three regions appeared to be correlated only to online connections.
In plain English the study suggests that there is a strong connection between the size of parts of the brain and the number of connections a person makes on Facebook (the number of Facebook friends they have). Ryota Kanai, one of the researchers, notes that: “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.” Geraint Rees, also of University College London expresses Kanai’s excitement noting, “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.” He continued, “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.”
So, should you go and add as many people as you can to your Facebook friend list? Not quite says Heidi Joahnsen-Berg from Oxford. While she was not involved in the research, she was quick to note that, “The study cannot tell us whether using the Internet is good or bad for our brains.” She hit the point home saying, “”If you got yourself 100 new Facebook friends today then your brain would not be bigger tomorrow.”
Even so, it’s exciting to consider that social networking could be impacting the way our brains work.