Does Facebook change your brain?


Facebook allows people to catch up with old friends, share photos and play games, and some researchers are wondering if it also changes your brain.

According to a recent study at the University College London, the amount of Facebook friends a person has is correlated with the gray matter concentration in certain areas of the brain, particularly in the amygdala.

“We found that the grey matter density of the amygdala, which was previously shown to be linked with real-world social network size, was also correlated with online social network size,” the study said.

University College London sampled 125 college students and they were asked a variety of questions concerning their social lives, focusing mainly on their online social lives. The researchers involved said they deliberately chose a sample made up mainly of college students.

“Such individuals almost invariably show a high usage of social-networking sites that are integrated into their existing networks,” the study said.

The results of the study made researchers wonder if certain people are born with more tendencies toward social networking websites and with the desire to have more friends or if it is a learned behavior.

Michelle Lindsay, 21, from Denver, said  while this research might be correct in suggesting differences in brains may cause people to act different, she hopes the media doesn’t take this research the wrong way.

“I’d bet that the media will get a hold of it and try to shove down our throats that Facebook is changing our brains,” Lindsay said.

More gray areas in the amygdala is often associated with extraversion and neuroticism, the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University said. This suggests that people with this larger amount of gray matter may be more inclined to have more friends and share their lives online.

Janet Jensen, a recent BYU graduate from Smithtown, N.Y., attending graduate school in Texas, said she noticed a common trend among those that had the most friends.

“I think my friends that have the most Facebook friends post disproportionally more pictures on Facebook,” Jensen said. “That might indicate that they’re more social than say anti-social graduate students living in cow towns.”

Facebook’s official statistics page says there are more than 800 million active users on Facebook. The average user has 121 friends, which is more than double the average amount of friends that users of social networking sites have in real life, according to research done by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

Deanna Beutler, a former BYU student from Littleton, Colo., and avid Facebook user, said just because a person has a lot of friends on Facebook doesn’t necessarily mean they are good friends.

“I have noticed that with the friends I have, usually the more friends they have on Facebook the worse friends they are on Facebook,” Beutler said. “I never hear from a few that I have who have over 800 to 1,000 friends. With that many statuses and pictures you can’t be as good a friend, so I prefer to keep to my closest friends and family.”

Beutler said she thinks people with lots of friends don’t think twice about who they are adding.

“I had a friend of mine who made up a fake profile and sent out a lot of friend requests to see who added a stranger and who didn’t,” Beutler said. “Those with a big friend list added with no questions asked and those with smaller lists asked questions or did not add this person.”

While this study states it found a correlation between Facebook use and gray matter in the brain, it acknowledged there is no proof of causation. Whether people are born with a pre-disposition to be “friend collectors” is unknown. For now, the researchers in this study are content with the correlation they found and that it leaves room for more research to be done.



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