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Science

Structure In Brain Linked To Varied Social Life 96

Posted by timothy
from the party-node-for-party-mode dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Scientists have discovered that the amygdala, a small, almond-shaped structure deep within the temporal lobe, is important to a rich and varied social life among humans. The finding was published this week in a new study in Nature Neuroscience and is similar to previous findings in other primate species, which compared the size and complexity of social groups across those species."
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Structure In Brain Linked To Varied Social Life

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  • by Freshly Exhumed (105597) on Monday December 27, 2010 @03:44AM (#34674478) Homepage

    Get an amygdala!

  • Ah. HA! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Chas (5144) on Monday December 27, 2010 @03:46AM (#34674482) Homepage Journal

    So this explains that small, almond-shaped void space inside my head...

    GET OFF MY LAWN!

  • so that's it... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jafafa Hots (580169) on Monday December 27, 2010 @03:46AM (#34674486) Homepage Journal

    Hmmm. Isn't the amygdala the part of the brain fucked up by PTSD? Maybe that would explain why I scare off all my friends.

    OK, by friends, I mean "the cashier at the supermarket" and such.

    • If that PTSD thing is true that's interesting as it's believed I'm suffering PTSD. (Seriously. Not trying to make a joke.)

      • Yes, supposedly PTSD can affect permanent change in the amygdala... causing a lifetime of stress, trouble coping in social situations, all that jazz.

        I have PTSD and it's a struggle. Best of luck to you - get to a therapist, get an actual diagnosis - you might just have a garden-variety anxiety disorder, easier to treat maybe. PTSD is such a beast to treat most therapists can't handle it. Takes a trauma specialist with experience.

        • Re:so that's it... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Psychotria (953670) on Monday December 27, 2010 @05:49AM (#34674814)

          I've often wondered about this. My IQ is high (this is relevant, I'm not just saying it for the sake of it) but in primary school (before year 8 in Australia) I had heaps of friends. From about year 9 in school until at least half way through year 12 (the final year in Australia) I was seriously bullied. In the final half of year 12 at school I beefed up a lot and kicked the shit out of a few of the bullies and they stopped attacking me. But my point is that for at least 3.5 years I was under constant stress and anxiety. Now I am in adulthood and I look back on my working career I can see quite clearly that although all my grades and my intellect is fine that I have under-performed mainly due to social ineptitude and constant anxiety and stress which, for the most part, has no underlying work conditions to provoke such a state. I wonder if during those traumatic years my amygdala went through some change. I wonder if I have PTSD!

          • Well, it is supposed to be more likely to result in PTSD if the trauma begins before puberty.

            • Re:so that's it... (Score:4, Informative)

              by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday December 27, 2010 @11:27AM (#34676248) Homepage Journal

              Most of the people I know with PTSD are combat veterans. They were well past pubery when they were in Vietnam, several decades ago (and still suffering).

              You sound more like me when I was in school -- not that social interaction with other students was a hindrance, but interaction with the two digit IQ teachers and their BORING classes were the cause.

              I had the same experience in the 7th grade (besides Bringing a "hydrogen bomb" to school) [slashdot.org]; the bully who stood a head taller than me and outweighed me by quite a bit that I beat bloody. Nobody fucked with me after that (well, the hydrogen thing probably garnered me some respect as well)

              • well yeah, you might be more likley to get PTSD if before puberty (child abuse, molestation, that kind of thing) but combat veterans have gone through bad enough shit to fuck up ANYONE'S head.

              • by innerweb (721995)
                I hated school to, for most of the same reasons. The other kids hated me. I kept setting the test curve high. And, I was a jock. I always wanted to be more stupid so the other kids would stop hating me. I had no idea then how stupid they were. I was always depressed, but noone ever saw it. I still hate most schools. I think under 12th grade is nothing more than a meat line. Too bad so many parents/politicians have their hands in the school without any regard for what school is. They are so worried
                • by mcgrew (92797) *

                  "They hate you if you're clever, and they despise a fool." -- John Lennon, Working Class heros

          • by rrohbeck (944847)

            Sounds plausible. I was the same. And remember the woman without functioning amygdalas who has no fear whatsoever.
            Later in life, I must have toned down my amygdalas. Otherwise I probably wouldn't have raced motorbikes and jumped out of airplanes. And looking back I have reduced my social life quite a bit.

    • by hedwards (940851)
      The amygdala is about the size of a walnut and sits right above your spinal cord. It's one of the oldest parts of the brain and is responsible primarily for being angry and scared.
  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Monday December 27, 2010 @03:48AM (#34674502)

    I can't help but be struck by the seemingly limited amount of spatial and mathematical reasoning capabilities of many who have exceptional social intelligence. In fact, there seems to be an inverse relationship between the two traits. The evidence seems enough to even posit that there is a maximal beyond which it is impossible to expand new intelligence and thus the capacity must be split between various capabilities.

    In some, the trait of sociability takes center stage whereas in others it is mathematical genius. Likewise, we see an exceptional ability of females to maximize their social circles. To whit, the mental capabilities of females and males being the same, it would seem that females would be more likely to develop large social circles and thrive within this mentally untaxing environment while males would thrive in problem solving and mental exercises requiring strenuous mental effort (such as in the hard sciences).

    Taking this further, it also explains the apparent inability of many computer engineers to interact in normal social circles. With much of their brain showing traits of strong mathematical acuity, their amygdala itself is underdeveloped. Perhaps it is this unbalance that is the root cause of "geekiness".

    Naturally, this is not the final word on all this, but it is an interesting step towards a more full biological understanding of character and intelligences.

    • Likewise, we see an exceptional ability of females to maximize their social circles...it would seem that females would be more likely to develop large social circles and thrive within this mentally untaxing environment while males would thrive in problem solving and mental exercises requiring strenuous mental effort (such as in the hard sciences).

      Amygdala schmamygdala. Females are just attention whores.

    • by jamesh (87723)

      I can't help but be struck by the seemingly limited amount of spatial and mathematical reasoning capabilities of many who have exceptional social intelligence. In fact, there seems to be an inverse relationship between the two traits. The evidence seems enough to even posit that there is a maximal beyond which it is impossible to expand new intelligence and thus the capacity must be split between various capabilities.

      I've noticed that too. You've got 20 points, you can allocate those points between charisma (to give it a name most rpg players can relate to :) and intelligence.

    • by rrohbeck (944847)

      That's easily explained IMHO. There's finite volume and energy, hence finite capabilities in the brain. Depending on fetal and early life development this capacity is apportioned to various functions. If it was possible to be highly functioning in all areas, we'd have evolved to do that.

      • by ultranova (717540)

        There's finite volume and energy, hence finite capabilities in the brain. Depending on fetal and early life development this capacity is apportioned to various functions. If it was possible to be highly functioning in all areas, we'd have evolved to do that.

        This rises an interesting question: given modern near-unlimited energy diet combined with C-section births, what will happen to head - and thus brain - size?

        • by rrohbeck (944847)

          That unlimited thing has only existed for 50 years or so, only in the western world, and will be over soon.

  • training (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tom (822) on Monday December 27, 2010 @03:55AM (#34674524) Homepage Journal

    My personal experience indicates that like so many things, social life is a matter of training, experience and desire. The people who have one actually make the effort and put the time into it, and unsurprisingly, get results. I'm fairly certain that geeks simply consider other things more important. I know if I want to, I can have a party every week and build up a good amount of friends. I know because I've been there, done it, and forgot to get a T-Shirt. But most of the time I simply don't care enough.

    A very good (female) friend said not too long ago that keeping her social life up and running is essentially her 2nd full-time job.

    Certainly brain structures make it easier for some people. Some people are just naturals, they make friends with the same ease I write a simple web-app. Evolution is great that way, giving some of us these talents and others those. But I'm afraid there will be way too many cheap cop-outs in the comments. "Ah that is why I have no friends." - no, lazybag. It is not that simple.

    • Re:training (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mangu (126918) on Monday December 27, 2010 @05:10AM (#34674722)

      My personal experience indicates that like so many things, social life is a matter of training, experience and desire.

      Training and experience, yes, but the real question is why do you have that desire?

      Think of an obvious analogy, a castrated animal has no desire for sex. Perhaps the amygdala produces some hormone that causes desire for social interaction. Social training and experience would be the result of that.

      Mathematical ability is the same way, one needs training, experience, and desire to become good at math. As a matter of fact, one needs these three elements to become good at *anything*. So, what's the element that causes one to have desire to be good at one field rather than another?

      • Training and experience, yes, but the real question is why do you have that desire?

        Fundamentally, it's instinctive. However, the behavior (like all behavior) is modified by experience. If you are good at it relative to the other kids you will do it a lot and get better. If you are not good at it you will tend to avoid it and fall behind. How successful you are at social interaction as a child is not governed solely by inborn mental talent. It is strongly affected by how you look, what your voice is lik

      • by Tom (822)

        Training and experience, yes, but the real question is why do you have that desire?

        Because we are social animals and have a built-in desire to be part of a group. That is by far not a unique human trait. I have gerbils as pets. These animals are so highly social that keeping one alone is pretty much a death sentence for it. They literally die from loneliness.

        Mathematical ability is the same way, one needs training, experience, and desire to become good at math. As a matter of fact, one needs these three elements to become good at *anything*. So, what's the element that causes one to have desire to be good at one field rather than another?

        Preference, rewards, experience in the good-or-bad sense. Basically, things you have learnt work well for you are usually the ones that you become good at. It's not a surprise that very few people greatly enjoy stuff they suck at. If

      • Being socially acute, diplomatic, engaged and engaging requires a full-on use of all faculties and senses. In most situations, maybe not taste. It is a 'live action' performance of your mind weighing and balancing sensory input, subtle cues, in a sort of dance of ideas, camaraderie and debate that is exhilarating and a bit frightening.

        Perhaps that is why Turing chose the test he did, rather than asking for the solution to Fermats last theorem.

        • Although making a computer solve that would be awesome in its own right. Then again having it produce and original timely joke or song is actually harder then Fermat.
      • by hedwards (940851)
        I disagree, most of the abstract things we do for fun are things which are similar, identical or otherwise related to things that we had to do previously for survival.

        It's not particularly obvious, but gambling is a good example. one of the things that our ancestors did before we gained bows and arrows and spears was to run down animals for food. It required a careful, albeit fast, consideration of the likely reaction by the prey and a swift reaction. Which is suspiciously similar to the risk/reward whic
        • by mangu (126918)

          I disagree, most of the abstract things we do for fun are things which are similar, identical or otherwise related to things that we had to do previously for survival.

          It's funny that you disagree with me, because I agree with you ;)

          Music is another good one, while it seems completely impractical, if you want to know what predators are out there it's a good idea to be plugged into the news network. Back in olden times that was bird calls and various animal noises. Being able to understand and replicate them was quite useful if you wanted to not be eaten or find something to eat.

          I think music has to do with turning away predators. Showing that you have the ability to act in unison as a large body is something that should scare away a predator that's bigger than a lone human, yet smaller than the assembled body of a human tribe.

          Besides, anyone who has seen how cats and dogs fear thunder knows that animals fear loud noises. By singing and banging drums together the human tribes amplified the sound they could produce to

      • by rrohbeck (944847)

        Training and experience, yes, but the real question is why do you have that desire?

        To get laid. Go read some Geoffrey Miller.

    • "My personal experience indicates that like so many things, social life is a matter of training, experience and desire"

      While this may seem trivially true, most peoples behavior is driven by unconscious processes, and these processes vary in their flexibility to solve different kinds of problems.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYmi0DLzBdQ [youtube.com]

    • by GooberToo (74388)

      I know if I want to, I can have a party every week and build up a good amount of friends.

      Those are acquaintances, not friends. Time and time again, the people who I've met who are social butterflies never have friends; despite believing otherwise. Their life is one social event after another and yet never have friends. Every couple of years, they are surrounded by an ever changing sea of faces. Using your own example, chances are, those "friends" were gone once the parties were.

      There's an old cliche about friendship which basically boils down to, an acquaintance is who you call to bail you out

      • by Tom (822)

        Oh, totally agreed, a differentiation between degrees of friendship is more needed than ever. I still despite Facebook et al for not providing one. And no, "groups" is not the same thing.

    • by ZorroXXX (610877)

      My personal experience indicates that like so many things, social life is a matter of training, experience and desire. The people who have one actually make the effort and put the time into it, and unsurprisingly, get results. I'm fairly certain that geeks simply consider other things more important.

      This is consistent with Paul Graham's essay Why Nerds are Unpopular [paulgraham.com]: Why don't smart kids make themselves popular? If they're so smart, why don't they figure out how popularity works and beat the system, just as they do for standardized tests? ... The answer, I think, is that they don't really want to be popular. ... Of course I wanted to be popular. But in fact I didn't, not enough. There was something else I wanted more: to be smart.

  • The Truth. (Score:5, Funny)

    by CuteSteveJobs (1343851) on Monday December 27, 2010 @03:58AM (#34674530)
    That's right. There's a 1:1 correlation that Girls with big boobs have a big amygdala. Tall guys with high cheekbones and a chin you could trip over also have a big amygdala. I'm glad science has finally proved this.
    • by tgv (254536)

      It's always the same. No-one has any idea why the amygdala (or any other anatomically distinguishable brain part) should fulfill a certain function, yet we scan a few people (not too many, please!), ask them a few questions, find a correlation, and draw overreaching conclusions. It could easily be the other way around. Perhaps the amygdala has a role in face recognition (http://www.schres-journal.com/article/S0920-9964(01)00324-3/abstract), and it adapts to store all those faces in that big social network?

      N

      • by nospam007 (722110) *

        There was a story recently about a woman with a damaged (missing?) amygdala who was not afraid of anything.
        Perhaps it regulates the fear of approaching strangers respectively the fear of rejection?

        • by tgv (254536)

          There are also articles on damage to the amygdala that result in loss of face recognition, about its role in emotions, in learning, etc. It seems to be just pretty important. I doubt it regulates one single thing...

        • Wasn't that the woman who said she wasn't afraid of muggers because angels would protect her? She was just a brain-damaged person being exploited by researchers.
  • it was the size of the pea brain that mattered.
  • Previous studies have tried to link social network size to the size of the neocortex. Through this it was estimated that humans have social networks upwards near 150 people. This was further backed up through other research.

    http://www.springerlink.com/content/pphfpu3c39ee9009/ [springerlink.com]

    This study, however, doesn't seem to address the neocortex since they only checked for links among different subcortical structures. The journal article itself doesn't even address the neocortex. In fact the article claims to be
  • So when you socialize more your amygdala gets bigger. That part of your brain is responsible for social activities. So hot girls have big amygdalas and nerdy guys have small amygdalas. At least there is one part of the brain of outgoing, social people that isn't underdeveloped. If they did anything other than chat with their friends, get drunk, and have sex they might avoid having an underdeveloped cerebral cortex. A choice between having a more developed cerebral cortex and a more developed amygdala ain't

  • In that case, it probably also correlates with the number of friends in facebook. Since correlation is causation, we finally know why the amygdala evolved: to serve Web 2.0.

  • Phrenology 2.0 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Opportunist (166417)

    Quite seriously. "Oh, Brain part X is big/small/odd, so he has trait Y". Just because we can look past the skull now, we're no longer measuring bumps on the skull, we're measuring bumps inside. Essentially the same bull.

    • Oh, Brain part X is big/small/odd, so he has trait Y"

      Isn't that what Brain Cancer specialists look for?

    • by hedwards (940851)
      If that's the case, then why do raptors have a larger portion of their neurons dedicated to processing optical sensor information than we do? And why do we dedicate a larger portion to the higher level functions than say an alligator?

      Phrenology was always complete bunk, but this is quite a bit different. The main mistake people make is in making assertions which are too strong to be supported by the body of evidence. That is not to say that the size of various structures is meaningless.
  • I dislike almond-shapes here, as the shape itself most probably has little or no bearing on the function. Why did the article mention it, at all? It makes the entire article read like something for a house-wife in the 1950s.

  • by mapkinase (958129) on Monday December 27, 2010 @08:20AM (#34675204) Homepage Journal

    http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nn.2724.html [nature.com]

    Brief Communication? No reference to the concurrent larger study by the same authors?

    Major parameter indicating activity - volume?

    Fig 1 shows piss poor correlation that in my college physics lab would earn me a "redo".

    http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/vaop/ncurrent/extref/nn.2724-S1.pdf [nature.com]

    Supp Tab 2 shows surface area (again, dubious parameter) and some kind of anchor labeling (ROI) (my guess, distances between those labels, but feel free to google it up).

    Tab3 adds "mean cortical thickness" - again, integral parameter.

    Size of sample is pathetic: 58 healthy adults (22 females; mean age M = 52.6, s.d. = 21.2, range = 19–83 years)

    At this variation of age and God knows what other parameters, this is just plain unconvincing.

    Besides all the dubious quality of this "brief communication", the results are predictable:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amygdala#Emotional_learning [wikipedia.org]

    "In complex vertebrates, including humans, the amygdalae perform primary roles in the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events."

    • by hedwards (940851)

      Major parameter indicating activity - volume?

      Fig 1 shows piss poor correlation that in my college physics lab would earn me a "redo".

      That's physics. If you can't get at least a 97% correlation then you've got something seriously awry. But this is neurology and like biology, if you're able to get something that's even in the 70% range you're doing pretty good.

      The reason being that it's a lot more complicated and the patters are much weaker. You can assume that all people's brains will be at least subtly different. Trying to figure out the hows and whys without knowing is a lot less straightforward, hence the lousy correlation. It's not

  • Somehow I don't feel compelled to take this study seriously.
  • I thought my avoidance of social life was due to everyone being jerks. Now it is something to do with Anaglypta wallpaper? Maybe so, I have painted walls or Artex.

  • Let's face it, all geeks and nerds here. Your social life is instantly determined the second you say "I work with computers" (Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz).

    Also true are the words of Young MC (from Bust A Move) "Got no money and you got no car, then you got no woman, and there you are".

    • The flipside is that if a girl I don't particularly like is interested in me, I can just tell them I work with computers and then they leave me alone. :D
  • ... on basement dwelling species like Slashdotters?

  • So the portion of the brain already known to be responsible for emotional response is tied to social achievements?

    What next? Will they figure out that the cerebral cortex is somehow linked to getting good grades?

    • by hedwards (940851)
      That's not a surprise, the question is how reliable these findings are. The amygdala being tied into both anger and fear is a likely suspect whenever there are problems with interpersonal interactions. I mean, a lot of what people do in response to others is tied into either anger or fear and so this wouldn't be much of a shocker.

      That being said, I doubt that is a particularly final result and there are almost certainly nuances and more that need to be investigated.

"We are on the verge: Today our program proved Fermat's next-to-last theorem." -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982

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