Updated: 25 December 2020 15:52 IST
Washington [US], December 25th (ANI): With the increase in COVID cases, physically distancing yourself from other people has never been more important. Now a new study from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) reveals how your brain navigates places and monitors someone else in the same location.
Published December 23 in Nature, the findings suggest that our brains generate a common code to mark where other people are in relation to ourselves.
“We studied how our brains react when we navigate a physical space, first on our own and then with others,” said senior author Nanthia Suthana, the Ruth and Raymond Stotter Chair in Neurosurgery and an assistant professor of neurosurgery and psychiatry. at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.
“Our findings imply that our brain creates a universal signature to put us in someone else’s shoes,” added Suthana, whose lab studies how the brain forms and recalls memories.
Suthana and his colleagues observed patients with epilepsy whose brains had previously been surgically implanted with electrodes to control their seizures. The electrodes resided in the medial temporal lobe, the brain center connected to memory and suspected of regulating navigation, much like a GPS device.
“Previous studies have shown that low-frequency brain waves from neurons in the medial temporal lobe help rodents keep track of where they are as they navigate to a new place,” said first author Matthias Stangl, a postdoctoral scholar in the Suthana workshop. “We wanted to investigate this idea in people – and see if they could monitor others close to them as well – but they were hampered by existing technology.”
Using a $ 3.3 million award from the National Institutes of Health’s BRAIN Initiative, Suthana’s lab invented a special backpack containing the computer that connects wirelessly to brain electrodes. This allowed her to study research subjects as they moved freely instead of standing still in a brain scanner or connected to a recording device.
In this experiment, each patient wore the backpack and was instructed to explore an empty room, find a hidden spot and remember it for future research. As they walked, the backpack recorded brain waves, eye movements, and pathways in the room in real time.
As the participants searched the room, their brain waves flowed in a distinctive pattern, suggesting that each person’s brain had mapped walls and other boundaries. Interestingly, patients’ brain waves also flowed similarly when they sat in a corner of the room and watched someone else approach the hidden spot location.
The discovery implies that our brains produce the same pattern for tracking where we and other people are in a shared environment.
Why is this important?
“Everyday activities require us to constantly navigate around other people in the same place,” said Suthana, who is also assistant professor of psychology at UCLA’s College of Letters and Science and of bioengineering at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering. “Consider choosing the shortest airport security line, looking for a space in a crowded parking lot, or avoiding bumping into someone on the dance floor.”
In a secondary discovery, the UCLA team found that what we pay attention to can affect how our brain maps a place. For example, patients’ brain waves flowed stronger when they searched for the hidden spot – or saw another person approach the place – than when they simply explored the room.
“Our findings support the idea that, in certain mental states, this brainwave pattern can help us recognize boundaries,” Stangl said. “In this case, it was when people were focused on a goal and looking for something.”
Future studies will explore how people’s brain patterns react in more complex social situations, even outside the laboratory. The UCLA team has made the backpack available to other researchers to accelerate discoveries on brain and brain disorders.
Co-authors included Uros Topalovic, Cory Inman, Sonja Hiller, Diane Villaroman, Zahra Aghajan, Dawn Eliashiv and Itzhak Fried, all from UCLA; Leonardo Christov-Moore of the USC; Nicholas Hasulak of NeuroPace Inc; Vikram Rao of UCSF and Casey Halpern of Stanford University School of Medicine.
The study was supported with funding from the NIH’s Brain Initiative, the McKnight Foundation and the Keck Foundation. (ANI)