Good news for all you brainiacs out there: the size of your frontal lobe may be an indicator of how many friendships you can manage at the same time.
According to a report by Forbes, research by Professor Robin Dunbar of the University of Oxford, best known for his work related to how many stable social relationships the human brain can manage, has found that the size of this brain area correlates with the number of one’s friendships capacity.
The study, discussed in Science Daily, suggests that humans need to use certain cognitive skills to maintain a large number of friends, known in psychology circles as “mentalizing” or “mind-reading” -- the ability to understand what another person is thinking, which is crucial to our ability to handle our complex social world, including being able to hold conversations.
The key word in the results is “friends” – not just people we know.
The report stated that researchers took brain scans of 40 volunteers to measure the size of the orbital prefrontal cortex, known as the frontal lobe. Participants were then asked to make a list of everyone they had had social (not professional) contact with over the previous seven days. They also took a test to determine their competency in mentalizing.
Dunbar said that he and his team found that individuals “who had more friends did better on mentalizing tasks and had more neural volume in the orbital frontal cortex.”
He added that all the volunteers in this sample were postgraduate students of similar ages with potentially similar opportunities for social activities.
“Of course, the amount of spare time for socializing, geography, personality and gender all influence friendship size, but we also know that at least some of these factors, notably gender, also correlate with mentalizing skills,” he told Science Daily.
That’s something to think about.