A recent study has tied the size of the amygdala to human social networking.


Comparative neuroanatomical studies in nonhuman primates strongly support a link between amygdala volume and social network size and social behavior. Species characterized by larger social groups have a larger corticobasolateral complex within the amygdala. The corticobasolateral complex conjointly expanded with evolutionarily newer cortex and the lateral geniculate nucleus, particularly the layers of the lateral geniculate nucleus that project to the ventral stream visual system. Taken together, these comparative findings suggest that a larger amygdala provides for the increased processing demands required by a complex social life.

It wasn’t long before articles started appearing tying the size of the amygdala and Facebook. Note that the name of the article is “Heavy Facebook users may have weighty amygdalas” but Facebook is not explicitly mentioned in the article.

However, as this well written article by “The Neurocritic” demonstrates, the tie is completely wrong.

…the size of the amygdala has absolutely nothing to do with Facebook or any other contemporary social networking site. The scale for quantifying social network size and complexity was taken from a 1997 paper on Social Ties and Susceptibility to the Common Cold (Cohen et al., 1997), which in turn cited a book chapter from 1991. There was no such thing as Facebook or Myspace in 1997, only Geocities (1994) and Tripod.com (1995). As for the history of online communities, The WELL was launched in 1985 as a bulletin board system and could be considered as a proto-social networking site.

So who was included in Cohen et al.’s (1997) definition of a social network? One requirement was that the participant spoke to the individual in person or on the phone at least once every two weeks…

It is well and good to try to tie new biological findings to popular culture but it is even better when the ties are based on actual scientific findings and not just happenstance of words in studies (social network) being similar to those in popular culture — like the ever-present Facebook, The Social Network.

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