New evidence demonstrates that the almond-shaped brain structure located in the temporal lobes (side portion of your brain) known as the amygdala can be linked to the size and complexity of your social network.

A 'social network' is traditionally defined as a person’s family, neighbours and friends with whom he/she is involved. Thanks to the Internet, our social networks now expand beyond those people we meet with face-to-face to include individuals we converse with and share with in the online world.

Fast Fact: The term amygdala comes from the Greek word for 'almond.'

Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett, a psychologist at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, along with a team of researchers, demonstrated that people with larger amygdala volumes have more interactions with people on a regular basis. They surveyed 58 adults between the ages of 19 and 83 using a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine. They found that those individuals with larger amygdala volumes not only interacted with more people, but these interactions were with people who played multiple roles in their lives (e.g. a friend who was also a classmate).

Did You Know?
The amygdala has an important function in emotional behaviors that are associated with fear and anxiety.

Humans, as a species, tend to have larger amygdala than other species, which may explain why we, as a whole, lead more complex social lives. However, while we know that there is a relationship between the amygdala and our social network it is uncertain if a large amygdala could be the cause of, or is the result of a large social network. Past studies have demonstrated that the amygdala plays a role in our emotions – meaning that this part of our brain may influence our reactions and interactions with other people making us more or less likeable.

Although a bigger amygdala has been linked to individuals with a larger social network, scientists don’t know if it necessarily indicates that these people are any better at developing and maintaining social relationships. Perhaps a future study might shed more light on the role of the amygdala by looking at our modern day social network—Facebook—to determine whether those with longer lists of friends and more interactions have larger amygalas.

Learn More!

Psychology Today:The Amygdala and the Social Brain

Nature News:Amygdala at the centre of your social network

The Globe and Mail: HowSome Brains Come Hardwired for Friendship

Article first published on April 26, 2011

Ricky Cheng

I am currently a fourth year undergraduate student in the honors physiology specialization program at the University of Western Ontario. I enjoy playing multiple sports which primarily include soccer and basketball.  I am applying for medical school this upcoming year.

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