More Facebook Friends, Bigger Brains, Study Says

If you have a large amount of Facebook friends, new research from scientists at the University College London has found that it doesn't just mean you are social, but that parts of your brain could be bigger than those with fewer Facebook friends.

The researchers found that when people had a large number of Facebook friends, they also had more grey matter in their brain. Grey matter is the tissue in the brain that does the processing, the UCL website explained.

One of the objectives of the study was to see if there were any similarities in the brain when it came to social network friends and "real world" friends.

Dr Ryota Kanai, first author of the study said, "We have found some interesting brain regions that seem to link to the number of friends we have – both 'real' and 'virtual'. 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."

One of the regions of the brain that showed a larger amount of grey matter was the amygdala. The amygdala is the region that processes memory and emotional responses. The UCL website reported that an earlier study had been done showing the same results when it came to "real world" friends.

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The results were obtained after scientists scanned the brains of 125 Facebook users and compared the results with how many friends the Facebook users had online and in the "real world."

Professor Geraint Rees, a Wellcome Trust Senior Clinical Research Fellow at UCL, said, "Our findings support the idea that most Facebook users use the site to support their existing social relationships, maintaining or reinforcing these friendships, rather than just creating networks of entirely new, virtual friends."

The study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B , raises additional questions about how our brains are wired for social interaction.

"Also, it is not clear whether the brain is hardwired for social networks. It could be that people have a large number of friends on Facebook simply because the structure of these brain regions is larger, but it could be the other way around – that is, with people who have a large number of friends on Facebook, that might influence their brain structure. We cannot tell from this study alone which one of those two it is," Professor Rees stated in a press conference, reported USA Today .

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