Nav: Home

Particular brain connections linked to positive human traits

September 28, 2015

There is a strong correspondence between a particular set of connections in the brain and positive lifestyle and behaviour traits, according to a new study by Oxford University researchers.

A team of scientists led by the University's Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain has investigated the connections in the brains of 461 people and compared them with 280 different behavioural and demographic measures that were recorded for the same participants. They found that variation in brain connectivity and an individual's traits lay on a single axis - where those with classically positive lifestyles and behaviours had different connections to those with classically negative ones. The findings are published in Nature Neuroscience.

The team used data from the Human Connectome Project (HCP), a $30m NIH-funded brain imaging study led by Washington, Minnesota and Oxford Universities. The HCP is pairing up functional MRI scans of 1,200 healthy participants with in-depth data gained from tests and questionnaires. "The quality of the imaging data is really unprecedented," explains Professor Stephen Smith, who was the lead author of the paper. "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." So far, data for 500 subjects have been released to researchers for analysis.

The Oxford team took the data from 461 of the scans and used it to create an averaged map of the brain's processes across the participants. "You can think of it as a population-average map of 200 regions across the brain that are functionally distinct from each other," explains Professor Smith. "Then, we looked at how much all of those regions communicated with each other, in every participant."

The result is a connectome for every subject: a detailed description of how much those 200 separate brain regions communicate with each other, which can be thought of as a map of the brain's strongest connections. The team then added the 280 different behavioural and demographic measures for each subject and performed a 'canonical correlation analysis' between the two data sets - a mathematical process that can unearth relationships between the two large sets of complex variables.

They found one strong correlation that relates specific variations in a subject's connectome with their behavioural and demographic measures. Interestingly, the correlation shows that those with a connectome at one end of scale score highly on measures typically deemed to be positive, such as vocabulary, memory, life satisfaction, income and years of education. Meanwhile, those at the other end of the scale were found to exhibit high scores for traits typically considered negative, such as anger, rule-breaking, substance use and poor sleep quality.

The researchers point out that their results resemble what psychologists refer to as the 'general intelligence g-factor': a variable first proposed in 1904 that's sometimes used to summarise a person's abilities at different cognitive tasks. While the new results include many real-life measures not included in the g-factor - such as income and life satisfaction, for instance - those such as memory, pattern recognition and reading ability are strongly mirrored.

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.

"It may be that with hundreds of different brain circuits, the tests that are used to measure cognitive ability actually make use of different sets of overlapping circuits," explains Professor Smith. "We hope that by looking at brain imaging data we'll be able to relate connections in the brain to the specific measures, and work out what these kinds of test actually require the brain to do."

The team will continue to pursue this investigation as the set of Human Connectome Project data sets made available to researchers increases.

University of Oxford

Related Brain Articles:

Study describes changes to structural brain networks after radiotherapy for brain tumors
Researchers compared the thickness of brain cortex in patients with brain tumors before and after radiation therapy was applied and found significant dose-dependent changes in the structural properties of cortical neural networks, at both the local and global level.
Blue Brain team discovers a multi-dimensional universe in brain networks
Using a sophisticated type of mathematics in a way that it has never been used before in neuroscience, a team from the Blue Brain Project has uncovered a universe of multi-dimensional geometrical structures and spaces within the networks of the brain.
New brain mapping tool produces higher resolution data during brain surgery
Researchers have developed a new device to map the brain during surgery and distinguish between healthy and diseased tissues.
Newborn baby brain scans will help scientists track brain development
Scientists have today published ground-breaking scans of newborn babies' brains which researchers from all over the world can download and use to study how the human brain develops.
New test may quickly identify mild traumatic brain injury with underlying brain damage
A new test using peripheral vision reaction time could lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective treatment of mild traumatic brain injury, often referred to as a concussion.
This is your brain on God: Spiritual experiences activate brain reward circuits
Religious and spiritual experiences activate the brain reward circuits in much the same way as love, sex, gambling, drugs and music, report researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
Brain scientists at TU Dresden examine brain networks during short-term task learning
'Practice makes perfect' is a common saying. We all have experienced that the initially effortful implementation of novel tasks is becoming rapidly easier and more fluent after only a few repetitions.
Balancing time & space in the brain: New model holds promise for predicting brain dynamics
A team of scientists has extended the balanced network model to provide deep and testable predictions linking brain circuits to brain activity.
New view of brain development: Striking differences between adult and newborn mouse brain
Spikes in neuronal activity in young mice do not spur corresponding boosts in blood flow -- a discovery that stands in stark contrast to the adult mouse brain.
Map of teenage brain provides evidence of link between antisocial behavior and brain development
The brains of teenagers with serious antisocial behavior problems differ significantly in structure to those of their peers, providing the clearest evidence to date that their behavior stems from changes in brain development in early life, according to new research led by the University of Cambridge and the University of Southampton, in collaboration with the University of Rome Tor Vergata in Italy.

Related Brain Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Failure can feel lonely and final. But can we learn from failure, even reframe it, to feel more like a temporary setback? This hour, TED speakers on changing a crushing defeat into a stepping stone. Guests include entrepreneur Leticia Gasca, psychology professor Alison Ledgerwood, astronomer Phil Plait, former professional athlete Charly Haversat, and UPS training manager Jon Bowers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".