"You can't just pinpoint a specific area of the brain, for example, and say that is the area responsible for our concept of self or that part is the source of our morality," says Hanson. "It turns out the brain is much more complex and flexible than that. It has the ability to rearrange neural connections for different functions. By examining the pattern of neural connections, you can predict with a high degree of accuracy what mental processing task a person is doing."
The findings open up the possibility of categorizing a multitude of mental tasks with their unique pattern of neural circuitry and also represent a potential first, early step in developing a means for identifying higher-level mental functions, such as 'lying' or abstract reasoning. They potentially also could pave the way for earlier diagnosis and better treatment of mental disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia, by offering a means for identifying very subtle abnormalities in brain activity and synchrony.
The research showing that specific mental functions do not correspond directly with certain brain areas but rather a unique pattern of neural connections also provides a more accurate direction for mapping the effective connectivity of the brain. Known as the Connectome Project, the goal of researchers involved in that work is to provide a complete map of the neural circuitry of the central nervous system.
"What our research shows is that if you want to understand human cognitive function, you need to look at system-wide behavior across the entire brain," explains Hanson. "You can't do it by looking at single cells or areas. Yo
|Contact: Helen Paxton|