Big Brains = Bigger Social Networks

Forget Klout. The real measure of social media prowess turns out to be the size of your brain.

A team of British anthropologists and psychologists have published a paper in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B that would seem to suggest a direct linear relationship between the size of a person’s social network and the size of an area of the brain known as the orbital prefrontal cortex.

Boosting the Dunbar Number

This is ground at least one of the team members has tread before. In 1992, anthropologist Robin Dunbar demonstrated that the size of the neo-cortex relative to the rest of a primate’s brain was bigger as the subject’s social group size increased. This was the same paper in which Dunbar came up with the Dunbar Number: the number of meaningful relationships a person can reasonably be expected to maintain. The average Dunbar Number is 150 people, though it ranges between 100 and 230 relationships.

Establishing a new correlation between social networks and prefrontal cortex size lends credibility to Dunbar’s assertions that our brains aren’t big to be smart, but to help us manage relationships that will ultimately help us survive.

In other words, a really smart loner caveman was less likely to survive than the average guy everybody liked to come along on the mammoth hunt.

Which Causes What?

The new study doesn’t mean that the more friends you get on Facebook, the bigger your brain will become.

Instead, if correct, it suggests that the bigger this area of your brain the larger the social network you would be able to successfully manage.

There are other factors to consider as well, the scientists stated, such as a subject’s ability to understand another person’s mental state - the so-called “theory of mind” (TOM) skill. A strong “theory of mind” capability and a larger orbital prefrontal cortex would be strong predictors of a person’s ability to handle a larger social network.

How It Might Be Used

The results of this study could help businesses or advertisers seek out individuals who are more likely to have strong and varied social connections, as well as individuals with a strong theory of mind.

It might also explain that while the raw spark of innovation is a one-person game, long-term innovative success tends to happen where stable social relationships can foster that innovation and keep it going.

 

Brain scan image courtesy of Shutterstock.