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Study Finds Abilities, Traits, And Satisfaction Levels Are Preset By Particular Brain Connection

Written by Chris Haigh
Writer, baker, co-host of "Good Evening Podcast" and "North By Nerdwest".
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Ever wondered why you’re good at some things, or find it easier to engage in some behaviours more than others? It turns out that your very own brain might be the key to figuring the road map to your own abiilties, traits, and even how you become satisfied.

The research team behind the study, led by Oxford University’s Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain, has found that different kinds of lifestyles, both positive and negative, correlate with the connections within the neural pathways of the brain and how they grow and change at fundamental stages in a human being’s development. In short, the way the brain develops affects and “programs” a lot of our behaviour.

The team conducted the research by using data from the Human Connectomer Project (HCP), a brain-imaging study led by Oxford, Minnesota, and Washington universities, which paired up functional MRI scans of 1200 participants with extensive data gained alongside the MRI scans.

“The quality of the imaging data is really unprecedented,” Professor Stephen Smith, who led the research, said. “Not only is the number of subjects we get to study large, but the spatial and temporal resolution of the fMRI data is way ahead of previous large datasets.”

The Oxford team took 461 of the scans and examined the data to create and map out an average outline of the processes of the participants’ brains, in order to examine how the regions of the brain worked with and communicated with one another; in particular, which areas work strongest together. The research evolved into a detailed description of how the 200 examined areas of the brain interconnected and related to each other, as well as equations and measures to help investigate relationships between the variables.

The results? The researchers found a strong correlation related to specific variations in the participants’ strongest neural links between areas in the brain. Essentially, it found that strong connections in the brain to certain areas were related to high external measurements in positive skillsets in the real world, such as memory, vocabulary, and life satisfaction. Equally strong connections to other areas of the brain were linked to more negative behaviours and lifestyles, such as anger levels, authority issues, risk-taking behaviours, and poor sleep quality.

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Interestingly, the researchers related the findings to previous research conducted in the 1940s, which identified the “g factor” or “general intelligence g-factor,” which is a potential variable proposed in early psychological research as a way to summarize an individual’s propensity at performing different cognitive tasks, such as memory, reading ability, and pattern recognition. These cognitive tasks strangely find themselves somewhat mirrored in the current research performed by the Oxford University team.

To quote the report at ScienceDaily, “Proponents of the g-factor point out that many intelligence-related measures are inter-related, suggesting that if you’re good at one thing, you’re likely to be good at the others, too. However, in the past, the g-factor has also received some criticism, partly because it is not necessarily clear if these correlations between different cognitive abilities are truly reflecting correlations between distinct underlying brain circuits. The new results, however, may provide an opportunity to understand if that’s correct, or if the processes in the brain tell a more complex story.”

This idea of your abilities being somehow “hardwired” into the pathways of your brain as a fetus within the womb may be divisive among the neuroscientist community, but evidence for a “nature” basis in the kinds of skills we are adept at seems more likely. However, this is not to say that research like this eliminates the need for responsibility or agency within human behaviour — we cannot simply write away acts of violence as being the result of your brain being more inclined towards anger (such as Stephen Mobley’s failed defence for committing murder), as it would eliminate the power of human beings to resist natural inclinations and give certain individuals the feelings of immunity on either end of the spectrum of brain chemistry. The research, however, continues to fascinate.

Featured photo credit: VIKTOR HANACEK via picjumbo.com

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