In my previous post I wrote about the number of friends that anthropologist Robin Dunbar estimated a person could theoretically have in his or her social circle (and reasonably communicate with) at one time, before the days of social media. The question was raised as to how this number compares in 2011, and the technical definition of “reasonable communication”. Today I found a study that may confirm that we are capable of increasing this size, and that evolution could play a part in it.
The study* compared a person’s popularity in social media (number of Facebook friends, Twitter followers, etc.) to the size of their amygdalae. The researchers noticed that the larger the amygdalae, a part of the brain that helps with memory storage and has a large control of emotional reactions, the more apt a person would be to want to increase their online interactions.
This finding supports the idea of the “social brain hypothesis”, which theorizes that as we increase the complexity of our social structures, our brains begin to evolve in various ways to adapt. It is the perfect example of how the tools a user creates in turn begin to shape the user. How much of an impact could social media be playing in this increase in size? While it may be difficult, if not impossible due to time length, to track how much faster the average size is growing with the increasing use of sites such as Facebook, it would be worth it to see if there are any other parts of the body that are so heavily affected. Who knows, maybe in the distant future our bodies will become perfectly adapted to type at increased speeds, or be able to look at a screen for extended periods of time. Then again, social media and technology evolve so quickly, I doubt we could ever keep up.
*Note: if you are a student at the University of Maryland, the full text of the study can be found on Research Port.