The secret of popularity may be being able to guess what other people are thinking – and in particular to guess what other people want.
Researchers found that the area of the brain used to ‘mentalise’ – the technical term for imagining what’s inside somebody else’s head – is far larger in people with a lot of friends.
The forebrain region – found just above the eyes – is one of the most highly evolved areas of the human brain.
It is known to be crucial to social skills and the ability to ‘mentalise’, or guess what other people are thinking.
Scientists found an association between the size of the orbital frontal cortex – the part of the brain just above the eyes – and the number of friends a person has.
Brain scans revealed that volunteers with the largest numbers of friends also had the largest orbital frontal cortex.
The study proves a link between ‘mind-reading’ skills and the ability to maintain a circle of socially significant friends, as opposed to acquaintances.
Lead researcher Professor Robin Dunbar, from the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Biology at Oxford University, said: ‘’Mentalising’ is where one individual is able to follow a natural hierarchy involving other individuals’ mind states.