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

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

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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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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Chris Haigh

Writer, baker, co-host of "Good Evening Podcast" and "North By Nerdwest".

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Last Updated on June 6, 2019

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

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     A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

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    The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

    “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

    In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

    The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

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      A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

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      Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

      “When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

      When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

      The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

      As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]

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      “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

      Silence relieves stress and tension.

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        It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

        A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

        “This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

        Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

        Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

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          The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

          Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

          But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]

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          Summation

          Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

          Featured photo credit: Angelina Litvin via unsplash.com

          Reference

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