Sizes of key brain region and social network
It was found that the more complex a person's social network was, the larger is the amygdala, an almond-shaped part of the brain involved in emotions.
The amygdala has also been shown to be involved with fear, emotion and even seizures. It's part of the 'old' section of the brain, meaning the amygdala is common to many different species.
Researchers had 58 healthy adults aged 19 to 83 years in America answer questions about the number of people they maintained regular contact with and about the number of social groups they belonged to - considered an indication of the complexity of each person's social network. The volume of the amygdala was measured via MRI.
It was found that the more extensive and more complex a person's social network was, the larger is the amygdala. This was true regardless of the age or gender of the participant. On the other hand, there was no link between number of social contacts and the size of other parts of the brain. But there was some relationship between areas of the brain connected to how the amygdala communicates with other parts of the brain.
This research can help define the role of the amygdala and look at those individuals who may have social problems. If one understands how the amygdala is involved in social behaviour, it will be possible to look for ways to help them.
The above findings may have evolutionary significance as well. A larger amygdala helps people deal with more complex social relationships and their place in them. Living in these more complicated - albeit sometimes fraught with challenges - networks might give humans an adaptive edge over other species.
The findings correspond to previous research that found that primates also have a larger amygdala, relative to the overall size of their brain and body. Like humans, primates live in fairly complex social groups, suggesting that a larger amygdala has evolved to help deal with complex social networks.
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