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The link between our obsession with Facebook and our shrinking brain

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Our obsession with social websites like Twitter and Facebook is the side-effect of an evolutionary process that caused our brains to shrink, according to Professor Bruce Hood.

“As people settled down into fixed communities for the first time, with the connection to a single place and the relative peace and security that brings, I think we started to change as human beings – we started to evolve to suit our new lives,” Bruce told the Bristol Post in a recent interview.

A skeleton from an elderly Cro Magnon man was discovered in a cave in France in 1868. Scientists recently used the 28,000-year-old skull to create a replica of the deceased man’s brain. They found the brain was 15-20 percent larger than the average human brain of today.

Similar paleontological discoveries suggest that the size of the human brain peaked around 20,000 to 30,000 years ago.

Bruce, who currently teaches at the University of Bristol, said this downsizing shouldn’t be interpreted as modern humans becoming dumber than their ancestors.

“The first idea to dispel is that big brains equate to a higher intelligence. That’s not the case. But it does tend to indicate a different social approach,” Bruce explained to the Bristol Post.

“This is not just true of human brains. Scientists have studied species like the silver fox, which when domesticated for the first time showed signs of reduced brain size within relatively few generations.”

Bruce, the author of The Domesticated Brain, argued that this shrinkage was produced by changes in how human beings lived with one another. As human societies began to develop, the need for a large brain dwindled.

“We started passing on our knowledge down the generations – something that no other species is able to do to any real extent. Our intelligence grew with each generation, meaning our individual brains were not having to learn everything from scratch.”

Bruce said this new social environment caused humans to evolve into “natural gossips.” Our natural desire to interact with others helps explain the popularity of Twitter and Facebook.

“The fact that many people have a compulsion to engage with lots of people via social media isn’t really that surprising,” told the Post. “Our brains have evolved for us to be social animals.”