Facebook Friend Numbers Linked to Brain Size

The more Facebook friends you have, the bigger bits of your brain are, British neuroscientists say.

Using brain imaging, researchers from University College London found that brain areas linked to social skills were larger in college students with sprawling social networks than in Facebook users with fewer friends. The team also found a strong correlation between the size of students’ online and offline social circles.

“We have found some interesting brain regions that seem to link to the number of friends we have — both ‘real’ and ‘virtual,’” Ryota Kanai, lead author of the study published Tuesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, said in a statement.

The results of the study, which was originally conducted with 125 college students, were later replicated in 40 more participants. The researchers cautioned that correlation does not mean causation but said they hoped to clarify how friends — and Facebook — shape our brains.

“The exciting question now is whether these [brain] structures change over time,” said Kanai. “This will help us answer the question of whether the Internet is changing our brains.”

Since the web went worldwide in the ’90s, its impact on our brains and behavior has been the topic of much controversy.

“Online social networks are massively influential, yet we understand very little about the impact they have on our brains,” study co-author Geraint Rees said in a statement. “This has led to a lot of unsupported speculation that the Internet is somehow bad for us.”

Indeed, some experts fear the Internet is slowly draining its users’ intellect and imagination. But its effects on cognitive and social development remain largely unknown.

“Our study will help us begin to understand how our interactions with the world are mediated through social networks,” said Rees. “This should allow us to start asking intelligent questions about the relationship between the Internet and the brain — scientific questions, not political ones.”