Amygdala size correlated with size, complexity of one’s social networks
January 5, 2011
A new study by a Northeastern University researchers indicates that the amygdala in the human brain appears to play an important role in social life among adult humans.
Their finding, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, provides insight into how abnormalities in regions of the brain may affect social behavior in neurologic and psychiatric disorders.
The interdisciplinary study, led by Distinguished Professor of Psychology Lisa Feldman Barrett, advances Northeastern’s research mission to solve societal issues, with a focus on global challenges in health, security, and sustainability.
“We know that primates who live in larger social groups have a larger amygdala, even when controlling for overall brain size and body size,” said Barrett. “We considered a single primate species, humans, and found that the amygdala volume positively correlated with the size and complexity of social networks in adult humans.”
The researchers asked 58 participants to complete standard questionnaires that reported on the size and the intricacies of their social networks. They measured the number of regular contacts each participant maintained, as well the number of social groups to which these contacts belonged.
Participants also had a magnetic resonance imaging brain scan to gather information about various brain structures, including the volume of the amygdala. The authors found that individuals with larger amygdala reported larger and more complex social networks. This link was observed for both older and younger individuals, and for both men and women.
Barrett noted that the study findings are consistent with the “social brain hypothesis,” which suggests that the human amygdala might have evolved partially to deal with an increasingly complex social life.
Exploratory analysis of other structures deep within the brain indicates that the amygdala is the only area with compelling evidence of affecting social life in humans.
Adapted from materials provided by Northeastern University