Facebook reveals your brain’s structure

MRI Location AmygdalaHow many friends do you have on Facebook? Whatever the answer, I can tell how much grey matter you have in your “amygdala” – a small, almond shaped area deep within your brain. The amygdala plays a central role in emotion and in memory – probably helping us remember things to which we have an emotional attachment. But a new study shows that the number of friends you have is correlated with the amount of grey matter in your amygdala. The more friends, the more grey matter. And the more grey matter, the better your cognitive abilities, according to several studies. Indeed, as we age we tend to lose grey matter and our cognitive functions decrease in parallel.

So, all this new study really shows is that – in common with many other areas of research on grey matter – our usage of Facebook is correlated with the amount of grey matter in a specific region of our brain, the one associated with remembering emotions. Not really much of a surprise.

But the study also shows that the correlation also exists in the “real world”; there is a link between the structure of our amygdala and the extent of our real world social activity. What neuroscientists cannot yet answer is whether or not the structure of this brain region leads to more social activity, or whether the increased social activity changes the structure. In other words, chicken or egg?

However, what is clear is that Facebook users have the same brain structural association as people in the “real world” engaging in social activity. Indeed, the recent study confirmed previous studies which showed that Facebook is essentially a mirror of our real-world selves; friendship patterns and activity on Facebook are much the same as our behaviour in the real world. The most chatty people on Facebook are the most chatty offline, the most connected people on Facebook are the most connected offline and so on.

What does this all mean? It means you can dismiss the notion that Facebook is some kind of negative world where teenagers get embedded into, where friendship means nothing and is a distraction from real socialising. What we can learn from this research is that Facebook is essentially an online replica of our real social worlds. You can forget all the nonsense that many people might like to think about Facebook. It really means that if your business socialises in the real world you can be sure that your fans are engaging with you in just the same way on Facebook. In other words, Facebook IS reality.

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