More Friends . . . More Brains
Reason: More Facebook Friends Increases Working Intelligence
Right off the bat, it turns out that the more friends you have, the smarter you’re going to be. Specifically, people who have more friends on Facebook tend to have more developed brain matter in the amygdala. The amygdala is a section of the brain associated with emotional responses that ties in with memory function, like remembering faces and names.
In the interests of transparency, the researchers who gathered the data aren’t actually sure whether having more Facebook friends leads to an increase in density in that region—or if people who have a larger amygdala are just more likely to have more social contacts. But there’s an easy way to find out—Prof. Geraint Rees, who published the study, would like to track a group of Facebook users over a longer period of time to pinpoint whether their brain structures are actually changing based on their friend network. For now, the safest thing to do would probably be to send friend requests to everyone your girlfriend knows—you just can’t take chances with your brain.
Reason: Facebook Improves Your Memory
One of the side effects of having a large number of friends is that now you need to keep up with them all. In real life you probably have a few dozen acquaintances—co-workers, classmates, drinking buddies—and maybe half a dozen close friends that you see often. But on Facebook the average person has over 200 friends—much more than most people do in real life. Scottish researcher Dr. Tracy Alloway believes that simply keeping track of those people can considerably increase your working memory over time.
This is separate from the previous item because it’s a phenomenon that affects everybody—not just people with thousands of friends. Basically, as long as your friend list on Facebook is larger than what you would consider your average real-life network, your brain will need to work harder to effectively process that increase in social contacts. In the words of Dr. Alloway, it’s “engaging your brain and improving nerve connections,” which is just a boring way of saying it gives you memory superpowers.
Reason: Social Interaction Rewires Your Brain
Interacting with others to solve problems isn’t a human-exclusive ability—but researchers believe that we do it a whole heck of a lot more than any other animal, and that might be one of the reasons we’ve evolved bigger brains. It’s something that’s still happening, too. A team of researchers at the Dublin Trinity College simulated the neural pathways of two people who had to decide whether to work together to overcome a challenge or work individually. They found that cooperation forced the brain to create new pathways as it factored in what the other person would do. The brain grew and changed to allow room for more potential outcomes.
According to Luke McNally, the head researcher, this is something your brain does any time you’re interacting with people. Not just on Facebook of course, but by golly it’s heading in that direction—a separate study looked at the social behavior of young adults from thirteen different countries, and found that over forty percent would rather interact online than in real life.
Reason: Positive Emotions Make You More Creative
There are a lot of negative things that can be said about Facebook, but the act of keeping in touch with friends and family has an overwhelmingly positive influence. Even small amounts of positive reinforcement have been shown to develop a broader style of thinking, and researchers discovered that individuals who were shown a film about something positive were able to perform better on word association and visual processing tests.
Another experiment worked with physicians who were given positive imagery before being asked to diagnose a case of liver disease. The physicians who went into the case in a good mood came to their result more quickly, showed more creative reasoning, and were better at integrating the case information.
Reason: Cute Animals Help You Concentrate
Facebook is built on a foundation of kitten bricks and puppy mortar, and there’s probably a much better way to say that. The point being, it’s nearly impossible to sign onto Facebook without being cuddlepunched in the heart by an adorable picture of a tiny kitten in a teacup, or a puppy and a kitten napping together, or any fluffy combination of the two. And that’s okay, because a study from Japan’s Hiroshima University shows that pictures of cute animals help you concentrate and perform tasks more effectively.
The study divided students into groups: one group played the game Operation, and another group was told to find a specific number in a long sequence of numbers. Additionally, some people were shown pictures of baby animals, some were shown pictures of adult animals, and others were shown pictures of food.
The results: students who viewed the kitten and puppy pictures performed forty-four percent better than when they didn’t look at anything. The other groups—the ones who saw pictures of food and adult animals—didn’t change their performance levels at all.
Reason: Facebook Reinforces Writing Skills
There’s a crowd of people somewhere who will swear that every generation is getting dumber. With our newfangled Twitters and mobile phones, the bar for intelligent language is dropping like crazy and our youth are taking the brunt of it. But the truth is, there’s a good chance the current generation is writing more—and better—than just about any generation for the past fifty years, and it’s due to websites like Facebook.
In 2001, Stanford University began what they call the Stanford Study of Writing. Over the course of the study, they found that students who wrote on Facebook fairly often were actually better writers because of it. The reason is that the students learned how to adapt their writing style to fit a certain situation. Samples of writing from Facebook, emails, and school papers all had a subtle difference in tone even though they came from the same person. The effect on the brain is similar to switching back and forth between languages.
Reason: Facebook Forces You To Read
Shooting off the previous entry, there’s no denying that Facebook is, above all, a text-based website. While it may not seem like most of the posts offer anything valuable, the very fact that you read them affects your brain in thousands of different ways. A recent study asked participants to read a book while undergoing an fMRI brain scan. They were told to read with two different mindsets—first as if they were reading for fun, and second as if they were analyzing the book.
They found that the two different styles of reading caused blood to flow into different areas of the brain, triggering separate mental functions. Similarly, the sheer variety of types of posts on Facebook forces our brains to process them in different ways—we use different areas of our brains to read about how our co-worker made a chicken casserole versus reading a link to a political news story.
And it gets crazier: Facebook also develops selective reading skills. When you scan through the news feed, your brain is picking out words and phrases, sorting them, and focusing your attention on the most interesting pieces of information.
Reason: Arguments Develop Your Logical Reasoning
Let’s be serious here for a second—the real purpose of Facebook (and the internet in general) is to make it easier to argue with anybody you want—and your brain absolutely loves it. Behavioral researchers are suggesting that the concept of arguing—of proving your own viewpoint to be superior over another’s—is one of the foundations of human intelligence. And the mental process of developing an argument is like jumping jacks for your brain.
One of the ideas of argumentation theory is that arguing forces you to think abstractly in order to develop a logical, persuasive dialogue. You’re not only using your memory to recall the right words—you’re taking another step by shaping the context of those words to match your argument.
And while arguing in real life eventually breaks down into “You’re an idiot.” No, you’re an idiot,” the mere fact that you have time to think through your argument online makes you more likely to plan it out and follow through—all of which requires reasoning skills and critical thinking.
Reason: Facebook Is A Pool Of Crystallized Intelligence
Cultural intelligence, political intelligence, social intelligence—none of those really have anything to do with the mechanical way your brain works. But they do mesh together into a general understanding of the world, something known as crystallized intelligence. Humans are believed to have two types of intelligence: fluid and crystallized. Fluid is your ability to solve problems and use logic. Crystallized is your store of knowledge, like your vocabulary, your knowledge of history and current events, etc.
Think back, where was the first time you heard about or watched the Kony 2012 video a few months ago? For many of you, it was on Facebook. Where do you get updates about your favorite band, or find out about new government legislation, or find sports scores? Whether or not you use Facebook, the site as a whole is a pool of information and knowledge. Some pieces your brain filters out, other pieces are stored away for later. There are other places to find that information, but Facebook is a drip feed of constant and ever-changing knowledge, if you choose to look at it that way.
Reason: Facebook Games Boost Critical Thinking And Creativity
The problem with video games is that responsible people think they’re stupid. No employer will hire you if you list “1,300 hours of gameplay logged on Call of Duty” as one of your qualifications, because for some reason an adult playing video games is taboo, like shouting “Voldemort,” at wizarding school. But we all do it, because there’s no other way to account for the 48.7 million people who play ChefVille each month, not to mention the hundreds of other Facebook games.
But don’t worry—it might be one of the best things for your brain. Studies are showing that playing video games—especially puzzle-type games—teaches you to solve problems creatively by creating a scenario that chemically rewards your brain for critical thinking.
Games like Biotronic and BeJewled develop spacial reasoning and pattern recognition, while games like FarmVille and CityVille help attention span and goal management by creating a long-term environment that reflects your earlier decisions. Everything that creates a challenge strengthens your brain by forcing it to work out something new and unexpected. So log on and go craft mines or something, I don’t know. You’re the genius. But before you do: like the naijavigilance Facebook page and double your chances of getting smarter!