Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Brain Goes Into 'Screen Saver' Mode In Absence of Stimulus

Date:
February 5, 2009
Source:
Weizmann Institute of Science
Summary:
New research shows our brain's sense centers are continuously active.In the absence ofa stimulus, however, their electricalactivityremains in "screen saver" mode.

Even when our eyes are closed, the visual centers in our brain are humming with activity. Weizmann Institute scientists and others have shown in the last few years that the magnitude of sense-related activity in a brain that’s disengaged from seeing, touching, etc., is quite similar to that of one exposed to a stimulus.

New research at the Institute has now revealed details of that activity, explaining why, even though our sense centers are working, we don’t experience sights or sounds when there’s nothing coming in through our sensory organs.

The previous studies of Prof. Rafael Malach and research student Yuval Nir of the Neurobiology Department used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain activity in active and resting states. But fMRI is an indirect measurement of brain activity; it can’t catch the nuances of the pulses of electricity that characterize neuron activity.

Together with Prof. Itzhak Fried of the University of California at Los Angeles and a team at the EEG unit of the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, the researchers found a unique source of direct measurement of electrical activity in the brain: data collected from epilepsy patients who underwent extensive testing, including measurement of neuronal pulses in various parts of their brain, in the course of diagnosis and treatment.

An analysis of this data showed conclusively that electrical activity does, indeed, take place even in the absence of stimuli. But the nature of the electrical activity differs if a person is experiencing a sensory event or undergoing its absence. In results that appeared recently in Nature Neuroscience, the scientists showed that during rest, brain activity consists of extremely slow fluctuations, as opposed to the short, quick bursts that typify a response associated with a sensory percept. This difference appears to be the reason we don’t experience hallucinations or hear voices that aren’t there during rest. The resting oscillations appear to be strongest when we sense nothing at all – during dream-free sleep.

The slow fluctuation pattern can be compared to a computer screen-saver. Though its function is still unclear, the researchers have a number of hypotheses. One possibility is that neurons, like certain philosophers, must ‘think’ in order to be. Survival, therefore, is dependant on a constant state of activity. Another suggestion is that the minimal level of activity enables a quick start when a stimulus eventually presents itself, something like a getaway car with the engine running. Nir: ‘In the old approach, the senses are ‘turned on’ by the switch of an outside stimulus. This is giving way to a new paradigm in which the brain is constantly active, and stimuli change and shape that activity.’

Malach said, ‘The use of clinical data enabled us to solve a riddle of basic science in a way that would have been impossible with conventional methods. These findings could, in the future, become the basis of advanced diagnostic techniques.’ Such techniques might not necessarily require the cooperation of the patient, allowing them to be used, for instance on people in a coma or on young children.

Prof. Rafael Malach’s research is supported by the Nella and Leon Benoziyo Center for Neurological Diseases; the Carl and Micaela Einhorn-Dominic Brain Research Institute; Ms. Vera Benedek, Israel; Benjamin and Seema Pulier Charitable Foundation, Inc.; and Ms. Mary Helen Rowen, New York, NY. Prof. Malach is the incumbent of the Barbara and Morris Levinson Professorial Chair in Brain Research.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Weizmann Institute of Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Nir et al. Interhemispheric correlations of slow spontaneous neuronal fluctuations revealed in human sensory cortex. Nature Neuroscience, 2008; 11 (9): 1100 DOI: 10.1038/nn.2177

Cite This Page:

Weizmann Institute of Science. "Brain Goes Into 'Screen Saver' Mode In Absence of Stimulus." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 February 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090204101252.htm>.
Weizmann Institute of Science. (2009, February 5). Brain Goes Into 'Screen Saver' Mode In Absence of Stimulus. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090204101252.htm
Weizmann Institute of Science. "Brain Goes Into 'Screen Saver' Mode In Absence of Stimulus." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090204101252.htm (accessed April 21, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Monday, April 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Study On Artists' Brain Shows They're 'Structurally Unique'

Study On Artists' Brain Shows They're 'Structurally Unique'

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) The brains of artists aren't really left-brain or right-brain, but rather have extra neural matter in visual and motor control areas. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) A recent study links apathetic feelings to a smaller brain. Researchers say the results indicate a need for apathy screening for at-risk seniors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

AP (Apr. 16, 2014) Pushing the limits on style and self-expression is a rite of passage for teens and even younger kids. How far should schools go with their dress codes? The courts have sided with schools in an era when school safety is paramount. (April 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern and Harvard suggests even casual marijuana use can alter your brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins