What’s the News: To much fanfare, Google has released a preview version of Google+, their long-anticipated move into the social-networking space dominated in the U.S. by Facebook, whose meteoric growth challenges Google’s dominance over the Web itself. The new service lets users send messages and pictures to each other, like Facebook, but puts more emphasis on grouping and communicating with different groups of people, as with email or in meatspace (i.e., the real world).
The two consensus early reactions (from the small group of people who have access) are that the service is mostly smooth and functional, a welcome change after Google’s social flops Buzz and Wave; and that it sure looks a heck of a lot like Facebook. Will that be enough to challenge Facebook, whose enormous base of users have uploaded much of their lives to one social network and may not want to invest time in another?
Large amygdalas, it seems, are social amygdalas.
These paired regions, typically referred to as almond-shaped (indeed their name comes from the Greek for almond), are known to be part of the brain responsible for sociability as well as fear and other deep-seated emotions. Lisa Feldman Barrett and colleagues sought to find out whether size matters in the amygdala, and according to their study in Nature Neuroscience, there is a connection between people having big amygdalas and having big, complex social networks.
The researchers measured two social network factors in 58 adults. First, they calculated the size of a participant’s network, which is simply the total number of people that are in regular contact with the participant. Second, they measured the network’s complexity, based on how many different groups a participant’s contacts can be divided into. … Linear regression revealed a positive correlation in amygdala size with both social network size and complexity. [Ars Technica]
The team’s MRI scans found a wide variation in amygdala size, from about 2.5 cubic millimeters to more than five. But other factors like a person’s happiness didn’t match up with amygdala size. And the subjects’ hippocampus, which the scientists used as a control, showed no variation when compared to a person’s social network. Only the amygdala size showed the connection, Barrett says.
In our slideshow this fall of social factors that make you fat, DISCOVER mentioned research from 2007 that gathered data from the famous Framingham Heart Study, which has been tracking people in the Massachusetts town since 1948, to show that having overweight friends made people more likely to put on the pounds. Now, another study, this time published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, uses the same Framingham data to suggest that loneliness is actually contagious.
But how could the feeling of social isolation be socially contagious? The federally funded analysis of data collected from more than 4,000 people over 10 years found that lonely people increase the chances that someone they know will start to feel alone, and that the solitary feeling can spread one more degree of separation, causing a friend of a friend or even the sibling of a friend to feel desolate [Washington Post]. Friends of lonely people were 52 percent more likely to develop lonely feelings, the researchers say, and a friend of that person was 25 percent more likely.