People who have more Facebook friends have more gray matter in their brains, a finding that may spur further research on the relationship between social networking and the mind, U.K. researchers said.
A strong correlation was found between the number of Facebook connections and the amount of gray matter, or brain tissue responsible for processing signals, according to research led by Geraint Rees, a senior clinical research fellow at University College London. The results, based on magnetic resonance imaging of 125 college students’ brains, was published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
While more gray matter in some areas of the brain can imply greater competence in some skills, greater mass in other regions may mean an individual is more easily distracted, Rees said. Similar research conducted at Boston’s Northeastern University found that the size of the amygdala, which processes memory and emotional responses, is related to the size and complexity of social networks in adults.
“We don’t yet know whether more is good or not,” Rees told reporters in a telephone conference call. “What we do know is these changes in gray matter can be seen in a lot of situations.”
Facebook Inc. operates the world’s biggest social-networking website, with more than 800 million users. The study’s sample consisted of college students whose networks of Facebook friends ranged from the single digits to about 1,000, Rees said. The average number of friends was about 300, with a majority of participants having fewer than 300 in their network. The findings were also replicated in a group of 40 additional participants, he said.
Further research is necessary to understand the relationship between the amount of gray matter and the number of social connections a person has, Rees said. It’s unclear from the data published today whether having more Facebook friends makes the regions of the brain larger or whether some people have an innate ability to have more friends, the researchers said.
The study was funded by the Wellcome Trust, a medical research charity based in London.
-- Editors: Kristen Hallam, Marthe Fourcade