Facebook friends your brain

The social networking site Facebook has achieved some remarkable things. If you put aside for the moment the fact that it is has managed to turn a perfectly serviceable noun like “friend” into a verb, for which it deserves a sound thrashing with a beaver tail, having more than 800 million active users worldwide is an immense achievement. Undoubtedly, Facebook, is a social extravaganza but now it seems that is has implications for your brain as well.

Researchers recently studied brain scans of Facebook users and compared those scans to data gathered about the subject’s network of friends both online and in the “real” world. What they found was a strong connection between the number of Facebook friends that an individual had and the amount of grey matter in certain parts of the brain.

Grey matter is the part of the brain where active processing takes place. In people who had more Facebook friends the amygdale, a part of the brain involved in memory and emotional responses, was significantly bigger. This was also true of people with more real world friends. However, only people with more Facebook friends had a larger right superior temporal sulcus, left middle temporal gyrus, and right entorhinal cortex.

The superior temporal sulcus plays a role in your ability to perceive a moving object. The entorhinal cortex has been linked to memory and navigation, including navigating through online social networks. While the left middle temporal gyrus has been shown to activate in response to the gaze of others and is implicated in perception of social cues.

So is the internet changing our brains? The evidence is that most Facebook users use the site to support their existing social relationships, maintaining or reinforcing these friendships, rather than just creating networks of entirely new, virtual friends. Yet the online friend community does seem impact the brain differently to the “real world” friends. The impact of the internet and society is only just beginning to be studied, let alone understood.

So yes, Facebook is great; it shapes society and it shapes your brain. Does that really give it warrant though to have its name used as yet another verb? Does Facebook want to own the entire verbage of society? You can “Facebook” someone, you can “friend” them, what will be next? When our first tender-footed ancestor decided that footwear was the go, did we change the language so that we would “go for a shoe”, do we say that we “shoe on the wild side”? I think not! Without being too conspiratorial about it, it seems clear that the real goal of Facebook is total linguistic takeover. Go for your life Facebook, facilitate social exchange all you want, but leave our verbs alone!

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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