o The Frog Blog: Does Facebook Alter the Brain?

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Does Facebook Alter the Brain?

Facebook fries your brain, or so they say, but can the level of use of social media websites actually  be down to physical differences in the structure of the brain? Well a new study, published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences journal, indicates a real correlation between the number of friends declared on the social media website Facebook and the grey matter density of certain sections of the brain.  Grey matter is responsible for mental processing. 

The research, carried out on 125 university students in London, showed that grey matter density was higher in the right superior temporal sulcus, left middle temporal gyrus & entorhinal cortex regions of the brain in individuals with more Facebook friends. These areas have roles in memory, reading social cues and supressing autism. It is not clear if using social networks boosts these areas or if individuals with higher levels of grey matter in these areas are more likely to use online social media.
"Our study was by design cross-sectional and so cannot determine whether the relationship between brain structure and social network participation arises over time through friendship-dependent plasticity in the brain areas involved; or alternatively whether individuals with a specific brain structure are predisposed to acquire more friends than others."
Interestingly, the study also reveals that the number of online friends a person has is reflected in their of "real-world" friends. A previous study revealed the link between grey matter density in the amygdala region of the brain - a structure associated with memory and emotional responses - and the size and complexity of real world social networks. This study showed that individuals boosted grey matter levels in the amygdala also have boosted grey matter densities in the regions associated with online social interaction.