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Social Networks Matter: Friends Increase the Size of Your Brain | The Primate Diaries, Scientific American Blog Network

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Interesting article that talks about link between the size of our brains and the size of our social network.

Here's the meat of the article:

Primates, and humans in particular, are such good social cooperators because we can empathize with others and coordinate our activities to build consensus. It is what also makes us so remarkably deceitful, allowing us to manipulate other members of our group by intentionally making them think we will behave one way when our actual plans are quite different. A successful primate is therefore one who can keep track of these subtle details in behavior and anticipate their potential outcome.

But therein lies a chicken-and-egg problem. How do we know whether it’s the social networks that have promoted an increase in neocortical growth or whether that same expansion of gray matter simply allowed these social networks to expand? A new study published in the November 4th edition of Science addressed this question by housing monkeys in different sized groups to find out if their neocortical gray matter increased as the number of individuals grew...

Their analysis revealed a clear, linear relationship between the size of a monkey’s social network and an increase of neocortical gray matter in regions involved with social cognition (such as the mid-superior temporal sulcus, rostral prefrontal cortex as well as the frontal and temporal cortex). Previous research has shown that these regions are important for a variety of social behaviors, such as interpreting facial expressions or physical gestures, “theory of mind,” and predicting the behavior of other group members.

It is possible online technology has allowed some individuals to express (and expand) a form of social behavior that emerged for other adaptive reasons but which has been underutilized until now.

Wow. Stunning...

Overall the monkeys demonstrated an expansion of gray matter ranging from 3-8% (depending on the brain region) for each additional member of their social network. In other words, monkeys that lived in the most socially complex group had an average increase of 20% more neocortical growth than monkeys housed individually.

I had known there was some anecdotal evidence that online social networks increased the Dunbar number, but figured it was mostly organizational. To have actual research on the neuroscience backing this up is surprising.

...which means that the more we practice, the better we get at it.

Which explains a lot. I was not so good at social networking when I started.

By doing it every day, I got better at it.

If anyone is the posterboy for introvert who practices being an extrovert, it's you.

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