The anatomy of friendship: neuroanatomic homophily of the social brain among classroom friends

Patrick D'Onofrio, Luke J. Norman, Gustavo Sudre, Tonya White, Philip Shaw*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
38 Downloads (Pure)


Homophily refers to the tendency to like similar others. Here, we ask if homophily extends to brain structure. Specifically: do children who like one another have more similar brain structures? We hypothesized that neuroanatomic similarity tied to friendship is most likely to pertain to brain regions that support social cognition. To test this hypothesis, we analyzed friendship network data from 1186 children in 49 classrooms. Within each classroom, we identified "friendship distance"- mutual friends, friends-of-friends, and more distantly connected or unconnected children. In total, 125 children (mean age = 7.57 years, 65 females) also had good quality neuroanatomic magnetic resonance imaging scans from which we extracted properties of the "social brain."We found that similarity of the social brain varied by friendship distance: mutual friends showed greater similarity in social brain networks compared with friends-of-friends (β = 0.65, t = 2.03, P = 0.045) and even more remotely connected peers (β = 0.77, t = 2.83, P = 0.006); friends-of-friends did not differ from more distantly connected peers (β = -0.13, t = -0.53, P = 0.6). We report that mutual friends have similar "social brain"networks, adding a neuroanatomic dimension to the adage that "birds of a feather f lock together."

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3031-3041
Number of pages11
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number14
Early online date19 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
National Human Genome Research Institute (ZIAHG200378); National Institute of Mental Health. Data collection for this study, a part of Phase I of the Generation R Study, was made possible by financial support from: Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam; Erasmus University Rotterdam; and the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development (ZonMw) TOP (91211021).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.
This work is written by US Government employees and is in the public domain in the US.


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