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Brain Differences Seen in Social Butterflies

Small study found three regions were larger, more connected than they were in more isolated people
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Noonan suspects -- but can't yet prove -- that it's the brain that adjusts to how social people are. "While I have to hedge my bets, I think the brain is able to adapt to all of your current skills and needs," she explained. "But we're not able to make the claim that it's getting bigger or better connected."

Zak, the neuroeconomist, said it is indeed hard to figure out which comes first -- better social skills or certain types of brains. However, "their findings are consistent with studies showing that lonely people have differences in brain volume than non-lonely people," he said.

Noonan said the next step is to better understand which areas of the brain are crucial to being social.

In the big picture, though, it may be difficult to understand what's going on because it will be hard to design a study that follows people from a young age and specifically determines how their brains affect their social lives, Zak said. "We are unlikely to have a definitive answer as to how our innate brain structure affects our behavior," he added.

Still, study lead author Noonan said this kind of research can lead to better understanding of how conditions like autism and schizophrenia disrupt people's abilities to be social in a normal way.

The findings were scheduled to be presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, in San Diego. Research presented at meetings is viewed as preliminary until it is published in peer-reviewed medical journals.

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