[Photo taken by Country Boy Shane. Licensed under CC BY ND 2.0.]

A recent study from the University College in London (summarized here) has apparently shown a connection between the size of certain parts of the brain and activity on Facebook. The parts of the brain which increase in size with social network usage are tied to understanding and using social cues.

So, should you be spending even more time on Facebook in order to give a workout to the social parts of your brain? Well, despite the study, the Dunbar number would argue that you probably shouldn’t. For those of you who haven’t covered it in class, Dunbar’s number is the maximum number of relationships that a primate can juggle at any one time. This is a level of closeness sometimes defined as

The number of people you wouldn’t feel embarrassed about joining if you happened to find them at the bar in the transit lounge of Hong Kong airport at 3am. You know where they fit into your social world and they know where you fit into theirs. (Source)

The concept comes out of primateology, and ties very closely to the number of individuals an ape is likely to have to interact with in its home group–apes, much like high school students, have to keep track of a very great deal of drama, deceit, and grooming relationships. Humans have a higher number than you would expect (around 150), but the number of Facebook friends or people you follow on Twitter is likely to exceed that number.

It’s not wise to become a digital hermit. Because of Facebook had moved friend away from the definition above and into “someone I met once” territory, someone with under 200 friends often comes off as a little peculiar. But–particularly in the wake of Facebook’s reemphasis on the lists feature in order to combat Google+–now might be a good time to think about creating a Facebook list of people who do meet the Dunbar number requirements. Focus on those connections, and you’re likely to actually maintain higher-quality relationships with the people you interact with online. This is exactly what you want if you’re going to be job hunting in a few semesters.

Brain size increase or no, college is better (both online and off) when you surround yourself with folks that you wouldn’t mind being seen with in a bar at 3 am. So, go forth and drink in the wee hours–science demands it!