How Many Friends Can Your Brain Handle?

Posted on November 18, 2013

Being a social butterfly just might change your brain: In people with a large network of friends and excellent social skills, certain brain regions are bigger and better connected than in people with fewer friends, a new study finds.

"We're interested in how your brain is able to allow you to navigate in complex social environments," study researcher MaryAnn Noonan, a neuroscientist at Oxford University, in England, said at a news conference. Basically, "how many friends can your brain handle?" Noonan said.

Scientists still don't understand how the brain manages human behavior in increasingly complex social situations, or what parts of the brain are linked to deviant social behavior associated with conditions like autism and schizophrenia.

To investigate these brain differences in humans, Noonan and her colleagues at McGill University, in Canada, recruited 18 participants for a structural brain-imaging study. They asked people how many social interactions they had experienced in the past month, in order to determine the size of their social networks.

The results shows that some brain areas were enlarged and better connected in people with larger social networks. In humans, these areas were the temporal parietal junction, the anterior cingulate cortex and the rostral prefrontal cortex, which are part of a network involved in "mentalization" — the ability to attribute mental states, thoughts and beliefs to another.

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Category(s):Friendships

Source material from Scientific American


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