Aristotle, Facebook, and our brains

What is heavy social network use doing to our brains? Some research, link courtesy of BBC, “Internet ‘may be changing our brains’ —

“Researchers counted the number of Facebook friends each volunteer had, as well as assessing the size of their network of real friends.

A strong link was found between the number of Facebook friends a person had and the amount of grey matter in certain parts of their brain.

The study also showed that the number of Facebook friends a person was in touch with was reflected in the number of “real-world” friends.

“We have found some interesting brain regions that seem to link to the number of friends we have — both ‘real’ and ‘virtual’,” said Dr Ryota Kanai, one of the researchers from University College London.

“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.”

So, what is a “friend,” exactly? I prefer Aristotle for such matters. But, his Facebook page kind of sucks, so who really cares about him? (seriously, though: you can find Nicomachean Ethics for free in many places; you’ll like it).

Do we treat Facebook as a vetting process (“hmm, that person is all right, but is she/he Facebook material?”). Or, is the opposite becoming the norm? Some argue that Facebook isn’t for real life friends anymore.

But, we digress. Let’s file all this under the category of “small sample size” and “relationship between causation and correlation unclear.” It’s still fun to think about. For more info on this UK study — Reuters: “More Facebook friends linked to bigger brain areas

“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 students, on average, had around 300 Facebook friends, with the most connected having up to 1,000.”

And be sure to check out The Atlantic Wire, “The Things That May Shrink Your Brain.” Watch out for back pain, vegetables, and internet addiction. Wait, what was that second one?

(pic above sort of related)


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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