Research finds that people with more connections on Mark Zuckerberg’s social network have bigger amygdalae than those with skimpy friend rosters.
Time to start making more Facebook friends?
the study indicates that brain areas associated with memory and emotional response are bigger for people with more connections on the 800-million-user social network.
First of all, bigger brains aren’t always awesome: autistics have bigger brains, especially in childhood.
Second, it’s not a bigger brain, it’s a bigger amygdala (and specific other regions.) Neither is a big amydgala something to put on your wedding registry, unless you also enjoy panic attacks and cannibalism.
But the phrase “bigger brain” is a code for “better brain.” Let’s accept that for the moment. This is an association study, which means it does NOT say Facebook caused anything. Facebook may cause things, many of them called divorce, but it is very difficult to alter the physical size of the amygdala in adulthood in a relatively short period of time with things that are not ice picks. It is more likely that the larger amygdalas which (in theory) offer a greater capacity for processing emotional interactions, also facilitate larger Facebook (and real life) social networks.
This is the crucial difference in the perspectives of the study and the articles. The study wants it to be true (and is likely to be true) that the brain size came first, and lead to the Facebook friending. Specifically, the study wanted to see if the size of an online social network was correlated to the same regions, and in the same way, as those involved in a real world social network.
The intention of the articles is very different: it wants it to be true that Facebook use alters brain structure, not because it cares about Facebook, but because all of these pop-sci media outlets are deeply committed to the idea of human as machine; and that technology is changing human beings, moving us towards some perfect consciousness-only species with replaceable parts. Humans are getting better and Apple had a lot to do with it. It is this principle that drives their noisy atheism that they pretend is scientific rigor. (Clearly, precision and scientific literacy are totally irrelevant, as evidenced by these articles.) The same reason they never miss a chance to remind you how awesome evolution is (while simultaneously misrepresenting it) and why you’ll find so many hack-your-brain articles in the same magazines, along with “The Key To” and “Why You” and “The Reason That”. The reductio ad absurdum of human existence, the pretending of progress, while no actual progress is ever made. After 6000 years, if there is anything we would have figured out “The Key To” it would be parenting, yet each generation has to relearn it from scratch. Isn’t there an app for it?
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- If you want kids to learn science, you need a better sales pitch.