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During adolescence, teenagers prioritize their friends over parents, as research suggests that friendships play a crucial role in emotional and behavioral development. Interestingly, our brains can even synchronize with our friends’ brains.

Having friends enhances cognition and mental wellbeing of teens

In a recently published research featured in eLife, scholars reveal that maintaining approximately five companions during the early stages of adolescence can significantly enhance cognition, mental well-being, and educational achievements.

Insufficient social connections result in limited interactions when some friends are occupied or inaccessible, while an excessive number of friends may indicate weaker bonds. As such, a delicate balance exists between the number and depth of friendships.

Furthermore, excessive engagement in social activities might encroach upon study time, potentially leading to compromised academic performance.

The study utilized data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, with 7,512 participants aged 9-11 years, followed up two years later in early adolescence. The data revealed correlations between the number of close friends and social problems, mental health, and cognitive abilities, such as memory, vocabulary, and reading.  The ideal number of close friends was approximately five, and these associations persisted after two years.

Benefits of friends diminish with too few or many friends

The study found that having too few or too many friends (less than four or more than six) reduced the benefits. The researchers also confirmed the link between the size of close friend networks and school achievement and well-being in a dataset of over 16,000 adolescents.

 Additionally, the number of close friends was associated with specific brain regions involved in social interactions, such as the orbital frontal cortex, temporal parietal junction, and anterior cingulate cortex, impacting brain health.

Having a social circle of five friends was associated with increased volume in specific cortical regions of the brain, which are crucial for various cognitive functions, including attention and emotion regulation. Those who had five friends experienced enhanced attention and improved social functioning. Considering the significance of social interactions for cognitive, social and brain development it is crucial for teenagers to have social routines as a way of promoting social cognition.