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Monday, 27 December 2010

Social whirl of a life? Thank your amygdala

I guess this is something we already knew or at least suspected. If your social life is a full of friends and family, you might want to thank an almond-shaped clump of nerves at the base of your brain.

Researchers have found that part of the brain called the amygdala, a word derived from the Greek for almond, is larger in more sociable people than in those who lead less gregarious lives. The finding, which held for men and women of all ages, is the first to show a link between the size of a specific brain region and the number and complexity of a person's relationships.

The team of researchers, led by psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett, found that participants with larger amygdalas typically had more people in their social lives and maintained more complex relationships.

According to the theory, those with the smallest amygdalas listed fewer than five to 15 people as regular contacts, while those with the largest amygdalas counted up to 50 acquaintances in their social lives. Older volunteers tended to have smaller amygdalas and fewer people in their social group.

This research also corresponds with that done on primates who tend to have a bigger amygdala when they live in large social groups. However, we should be aware that a word of caution should be observed. As Lisa Feldman Barrett states,

"It's not that someone with a larger amygdala can do things that someone with a smaller amygdala cannot do. People differ in how well they remember people's names and faces and the situation in which they met them. Someone with a larger amygdala might simply be better at remembering those details," Barrett added.

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