The Twitter Spot in Your Brain


These days, you can’t go online without bumping into someone styling himself as a social media guru, a Facebook expert, or a power user of Twitter. And, if you check their online profiles, they actually do have thousands of friends and followers. But are these real friends, or did the supposed expert socializers simply crank up an automation software to rapidly build their follower base? Surprisingly, how capable of being social a person is can be revealed by a brain scan.

A new study has found that individuals with larger amygdalas (an area of the brain usually associated with fear and other emotions) have more friends and more complex social networks.

Magnetic resonance imaging scans found a positive link between big amygdalas and the richest social lives. Professor Lisa Barrett, a psychologist at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, reported the findings in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

She said they were consistent with the social brain theory, which suggests the human amygdala evolved to deal with an increasingly complex social world. Other studies of primates have shown that those living in larger groups tend to have larger amygdalas. [From The Daily Mail.]

What is not yet known is the nature of the cause/effect relationship. Do big amygdalas enable one to build bigger networks of friends? Or does having a large number of friends actually influence the size of the amygdala?

While you likely won’t be able to get an fMRI scan of your next social media expert’s brain, this is fascinating research – it actually demonstrates a link between the size of a specific brain structure and differences in human behavior.

  1. Neil Hopkins says

    I wonder how the Dunbar Number is affected by amygdala size? Would it follow that the bigger the amygdala, the further from the DN mean one can go?

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Interesting point, Neil. Dunbar’s estimate of 150 as a typical limit to group size wasn’t precise, of course, and no doubt reflected a range of sociability among the participating individuals. Also, Dunbar’s limit was based on the processing power of the neocortex, a more modern structure than the amygdala. Perhaps more research will explain the role each of these structures play in developing and maintaining social relationships.


  2. Steven | The Emotion Machine says

    I think social media can definitely be used socially, but a lot of the so-called “social media experts” are just giving lip service.

    As for me, I’m not a SM expert, but I’m actually social on Twitter. So whether I have a big amygdala or not, I am working it the best I can. 🙂

  3. Gabriele Maidecchi says

    It wouldn’t surprise me if sooner than later employment interviews were made thanks also to portable brain scanners to evaluate one’s potential in a certain job position. Perhaps a bit too much “big brother” but yeah.

  4. Neil Hopkins says

    Hi Roger

    Spotted this today on Wired about the effects of amygdala destruction in one patient – immediately thought of you!

    All the best

  5. Roger Dooley says

    That’s very interesting, Neil. I wonder if the woman described in that article also had difficulty forming social relationships, since it appears the amygdala is involved in that process as well? Of course, our brains have a knack for compensating for damage to one area by developing another. Her lack of fear response suggests that no compensation occurred, though, at least for that emotion.


  6. Annie Pettit says

    The friend/follower count is a hot topic. But do you REALLY think that people with a lot of friends really think they are friends with all of these people? For me, having a lot of friends/followers means that any time I go online, I will receive a gift of random musings from many different types of people. I get perspectives from folks who have varying interests and who interpret things in many different ways. It’s a smorgasbord of ideas. That’s how I like it! 🙂

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Annie, I think everyone uses social media differently. Someone who has auto-followed 50K people has no social connection with them, where someone who has a few hundred carefully selected friends likely really is interacting with them.


  7. Shane Moon says

    Interesting idea and correlation I suppose. But I wonder if the larger the amygdala the larger network is a means of fear seeking/avoidance behaviour. That is, if the amygdala is associated with sensitivity to negative emotion such as fear or anxiety towards stimuli, does the larger amygdala drive people to have larger networks in search for this stimuli to avoid – a quasi paranoid personality expression maybe. Also, I wonder if broadmann area 38 (also involved in social behaviour and decision making in social contexts) is implicated or just the amygdala.

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