Thinking of hiring a social media strategist or a sales representative/associate? We’d recommend having them undertake an fMRI scan slotted between the CV review and the interview stage. This may seem like a slightly drastic measure, but British psychologists and anthropologists from the Royal Society B have shown a direct linear correlation between the size of a person’s orbital prefrontal cortex and the size of a person’s social network. Earl Miller and Jonathan Cohen’s research further found that dysfunction in this area causes social defects. However, unfortunately this doesn’t mean that the more people that follow you on Twitter, the larger your brain will become, as, by your early twenties, your prefrontal cortex size has more or less reached maturity after the extensive neuronal pruning that takes place during adolescence. It basically means that if you happen to have been genetically granted a large prefrontal cortex, you should naturally be able to manage your social groups to a higher standard than your smaller prefrontal cortex carrier companions.

The study behind this observation invaded old territory for one of the researchers, anthropologist Robin Dunbar. Back in 1992, Dunbar showed that the size of the neo-cortex (in which the pre-frontal cortex is contained) relative to the rest of a primates brain, was larger as the size of the subject’s social group increased. In the same paper, Dunbar identified the “Dunbar Number” as the cognitive limit to the number of meaningful relationships a person can reasonably maintain. The Dunbar number ranges between 100-230 relationships but 150 is the widely accepted average value. Dunbar asserted that this number is the same throughout all cultures and has not altered through the course of history. Does this mean we should carefully shape and prune our facebook friends down to a select few before the cut-off point at that crucial 150th friend request? And could this mean that those of us not as well endowed in the prefrontal cortex area should make the friends cut at an even lower value than 150? The research is continuing, especially as social media is quickly becoming the largest form of communication both on a personal and business level.


So Dunbar’s demonstration of neo cortex size relating to ease of social group maintenance seemingly lends credibility to the notion that our brains aren’t big to be smart in an academic sense, but to help us manage and maintain the relationships that will ultimately lead to our survival. After all, having a strong social base has been proven to reduce short term and long term stress. This stress dwells in a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is vulnerable to and becomes damaged under prolonged stress, eventually leading to atrophy and memory problems. As well as being less prone to these problems, those in possession of the ideal prefrontal cortices could possibly start being sought out by businesses looking for employees with strong social connections.

However, according to some research, a worthy prefrontal cortex alone might not land you in the running for being up there with the highest ranked natural social butterflies. Another key player needed on the brain team is a strong theory of mind. The theory of mind could be described as a kind of social radar, being able to relate to and empathise heavily with others. It also allows a person to attribute thoughts, intentions and desires to other people and to predict or explain the consequent actions of others. So, in addition to our earlier point, a strong theory of mind coupled with an above-average orbital prefrontal cortex would be a near-perfect predictor of a person’s ability to handle a hefty social network. And the science seems to suggest that some people are just more wired (quite literally in neuronal terms) for social encounters than others. What does this mean? Perhaps that you should take the nature over nurture option and seek out the naturals at forging social connections over the smaller pre-frontal cortex-harbouring individuals when looking for potential networkers for your organisation. Or invest in Human Resources and fund that MRI programme as part of the recruitment process.

Seriously, besides being interesting, there’s a point here. We think that over the next decade marketing and disciplines like psychology will increasingly collide. That’s because one has the power to improve the performance of the other. Multi-million pound MRI machines aren’t the short term future of marketing enablement, but an enhanced understanding of the human mind – something we refer to casually as”neuro-marketing” – is.


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