Online Social Networks Transforming Human Brains

The rise of social media and social networks are directly affecting the way that human beings’ brains are wired, according to new study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences.

According to the study, the size of an individual’s online social network is closely linked to focal brain structure implicated in social cognition.

Given that the brain is plastic and changes and adapts over time, it is not sursprising that the ubiquity of the internet is most likely to have an impact on the brain though study into this field remains minimal. Of course, the internet has an uncanny ability to sap attention spans and the ability to focus.

The increasing ubiquity of web-based social networking services is a striking feature of modern human society influencing a new way of doing things from interpersonal communication, business conduct to political manouvering.

The new study is therefore critical in laying some groundwork into unveiling how our brains are evolving as they adapt to the challenges posed by social media. Given the human brain’s infinite malleability, it is not surprising that the over-exposure most people have to online activities, including social networking.

Facebook, the world’s most popular social networking site, has more than 800 million active users around the world. In fact, social networks have been singled out as one of the key contributors to the explosion of the Arab Spring which toppled some leaders in North Africa.

According to the researchers, it’s not clear whether using social networks boosts grey matter or if those with certain brain structures are good at making friends.

“We have found some interesting brain regions that seem to link to the number of friends we have – both ‘real’ and ‘virtual’,” the British Broadcasting Corporation qouted Dr Ryota Kanai, one of the researchers from University College London.

“The exciting question now is whether these structures change over time. This will help us answer the question of whether the internet is changing our brains.”

One region involved is the amygdala, which is associated with memory and emotional responses.

“The right superior temporal sulcus has a role in perception and may be impaired in autism. The left middle temporal gyrus is associated with “reading” social cues, while the third – the right entorhinal complex – is thought to be important in memory and navigation,” the BBC reported on three other areas of the brain were linked with the size of someone’s online social network but not their tally of real-world friends.

According to the BBC, although the study found a link between human brain structure and online social network size, it did not test cause and effect. The study found only a weak relationship between the number of Facebook friends and the number of friends in the real world.


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