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Being a social butterfly just might change your brain: In people with a large network of friends and excellent social skills, certain brain regions are bigger and better connected than in people with fewer friends, a new study finds.

The research, presented here Tuesday (Nov. 12) at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, suggests a connection between social interactions and brain structure.

"We're interested in how your brain is able to allow you to navigate in complex social environments," study researcher MaryAnn Noonan, a neuroscientist at Oxford University, in England, said at a news conference. Basically, "how many friends can your brain handle?" Noonan said.

Scientists still don't understand how the brain manages human behavior in increasingly complex social situations, or what parts of the brain are linked to deviant social behavior associated with conditions like autismand schizophrenia.

Studies in macaque monkeys have shown that brain areas involved in face processing and in predicting the intentions of others are larger in animalsliving in large social groups than in ones living in smaller groups.

To investigate these brain differences in humans, Noonan and her colleagues at McGill University, in Canada, recruited 18 participants for a structural brain-imaging study. They asked people how many social interactions they had experienced in the past month, in order to determine the size of their social networks.

As was the case in monkeys, some brain areas were enlarged and better connectedin people with larger social networks. In humans, these areas were the temporal parietal junction, the anterior cingulate cortex and the rostral prefrontal cortex, which are part of a network involved in "mentalization"—the ability to attribute mental states, thoughts and beliefs to another.

"These different brain regions are all singing different songs," Noonan said. "Networked areas are all singing the same song, and when they're connected better, they're singing more harmoniously with each other."

The researchers also tested whether the size of a person's social networkwas linked with changes in white-matter pathways, the nerve fibers that connect different brain regions.

Again, they found that white-matter tracts were better connected in people with bigger social networks. "The nerves were more like a Los Angeles freeway than a country road," Noonan said.

The researchers couldn't say whether social interaction caused these changes in brain structure and connectivity, or whether the brain determined how innately social someone was.

In the case of the monkeys, the researchers dictated the size of the animals' social network, so they concluded that social-group size was causing the brain differences.

It can be inferred that a similar process takes place in human brains, but to prove this, long-term studies are needed, Noonan told LiveScience.

The fact that some brain regions may be larger and more connected suggests other regions might be smaller in the brains of the more socially adept, Noonan said.

"If you're spending a lot of time in social environments using social skills and your brain's changing, maybe you're not learning to juggle in your free time or becoming proficient at the piano," she said. "The brain is just changing and optimizing to reflect your needs, and if that is thriving within a complex social environment, that is what your brain is reflecting."




“我们渴望知道你的大脑如何使你在复杂的社会环境中保持方向感,” 研究员努南在英国的记者招待会上说,她是一名牛津大学的神经学家。简言之,“你的大脑能 ‘招架’多少朋友?” 她说道。





“不同的大脑区域分工协作,” 努南说,“神经系统整体步调一致,并且当他们联络得更好时,这种协同合作更和谐。”


再一次,他们发现拥有更大社交圈子的人的白质纤维束联络更为发达。“这些神经就像是一条洛杉矶超速干道而不是乡间小路。” 努南说。