Online social network size is reflected in human brain structure

R. Kanai, B. Bahrami, R. Roylance, G. Rees

Abstract

The increasing ubiquity of web-based social networking services is a striking feature of modern human society. The degree to which individuals participate in these networks varies substantially for reasons that are unclear. Here, we show a biological basis for such variability by demonstrating that quantitative variation in the number of friends an individual declares on a web-based social networking service reliably predicted grey matter density in the right superior temporal sulcus, left middle temporal gyrus and entorhinal cortex. Such regions have been previously implicated in social perception and associative memory, respectively. We further show that variability in the size of such online friendship networks was significantly correlated with the size of more intimate real-world social groups. However, the brain regions we identified were specifically associated with online social network size, whereas the grey matter density of the amygdala was correlated both with online and real-world social network sizes. Taken together, our findings demonstrate that the size of an individual's online social network is closely linked to focal brain structure implicated in social cognition.

  • Received September 20, 2011.
  • Accepted September 30, 2011.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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