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Evidence for ancient magnetic sense in humans

March 18, 2019

The human brain can unconsciously respond to changes in Earth's magnetic fields, according to a team of geoscientists and neurobiologists. Reported in eNeuro, this interdisciplinary study revives a research area in neuroscience that has remained dormant for decades.

Many animals, such as migratory birds and sea turtles, have a geomagnetic sense that supports their biological navigation system. Although magnetoreception has been well-studied in these animals, scientists have not yet been able to determine whether humans share this ability.

Geoscientist Joseph Kirschvink, neuroscientist Shin Shimojo, and their colleagues at Caltech and the University of Tokyo set out to address this long-standing question using electroencephalography to record adult participants' brain activity during magnetic field manipulations. Carefully controlled experiments revealed a decrease in alpha-band brain activity -- an established response to sensory input -- in some participants. The researchers replicated this effect in participants who responded strongly and confirmed these responses were tuned to the magnetic field of the Northern Hemisphere, where the study was conducted.

Future studies of magnetoreception in diverse human populations may provide new clues into the evolution and individual variation of this ancient sensory system.
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Please contact media@sfn.org for full-text PDF: Transduction of the Geomagnetic Field as Evidenced from Alpha-band Activity in the Human Brain*

*A preprint of this manuscript has been posted on bioRxiv: https://doi.org/10.1101/448449

About eNeuro

eNeuro, the Society for Neuroscience's open-access journal launched in 2014, publishes rigorous neuroscience research with double-blind peer review that masks the identity of both the authors and reviewers, minimizing the potential for implicit biases. eNeuro is distinguished by a broader scope and balanced perspective achieved by publishing negative results, failure to replicate or replication studies. New research, computational neuroscience, theories and methods are also published.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

Society for Neuroscience

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