Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Brain on autopilot: How the architecture of the brain shapes its functioning

Date:
January 16, 2014
Source:
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Summary:
The structure of the human brain is complex, reminiscent of a circuit diagram with countless connections. But what role does this architecture play in the functioning of the brain?

A daydreaming brain: the yellow areas depict the default mode network from three different perspectives; the colored fibers show the connections amongst each other and with the remainder of the brain.
Credit: MPI for Human Development

The structure of the human brain is complex, reminiscent of a circuit diagram with countless connections. But what role does this architecture play in the functioning of the brain? To answer this question, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, in cooperation with colleagues at the Free University of Berlin and University Hospital Freiburg, have for the first time analyzed 1.6 billion connections within the brain simultaneously. They found the highest agreement between structure and information flow in the "default mode network," which is responsible for inward-focused thinking such as daydreaming.

Everybody's been there: You're sitting at your desk, staring out the window, your thoughts wandering. Instead of getting on with what you're supposed to be doing, you start mentally planning your next holiday or find yourself lost in a thought or a memory. It's only later that you realize what has happened: Your brain has simply "changed channels" -- and switched to autopilot.

For some time now, experts have been interested in the competition among different networks of the brain, which are able to suppress one another's activity. If one of these approximately 20 networks is active, the others remain more or less silent. So if you're thinking about your next holiday, it is almost impossible to follow the content of a text at the same time.

To find out how the anatomical structure of the brain impacts its functional networks, a team of researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, in cooperation with colleagues at the Free University of Berlin and the University Hospital Freiburg, have analyzed the connections between a total of 40,000 tiny areas of the brain. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, they examined a total of 1.6 billion possible anatomical connections between these different regions in 19 participants aged between 21 and 31 years. The research team compared these connections with the brain signals actually generated by the nerve cells.

Their results showed the highest agreement between brain structure and brain function in areas forming part of the "default mode network," which is associated with daydreaming, imagination, and self-referential thought. "In comparison to other networks, the default mode network uses the most direct anatomical connections. We think that neuronal activity is automatically directed to level off at this network whenever there are no external influences on the brain," says Andreas Horn, lead author of the study and researcher in the Center for Adaptive Rationality at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin.

Living up to its name, the default mode network seems to become active in the absence of external influences. In other words, the anatomical structure of the brain seems to have a built-in autopilot setting. It should not, however, be confused with an idle state. On the contrary, daydreaming, imagination, and self-referential thought are complex tasks for the brain.

"Our findings suggest that the structural architecture of the brain ensures that it automatically switches to something useful when it is not being used for other activities," says Andreas Horn. "But the brain only stays on autopilot until an external stimulus causes activity in another network, putting an end to the daydreaming. A buzzing fly, a loud bang in the distance, or focused concentration on a text, for example."

The researchers hope that their findings will contribute to a better understanding of brain functioning in healthy people, but also of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia. In follow-up studies, the research team will compare the brain structures of patients with neurological disorders with those of healthy controls.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Andreas Horn, Dirk Ostwald, Marco Reisert, Felix Blankenburg. The structural–functional connectome and the default mode network of the human brain. NeuroImage, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2013.09.069

Cite This Page:

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "Brain on autopilot: How the architecture of the brain shapes its functioning." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 January 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140116113506.htm>.
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. (2014, January 16). Brain on autopilot: How the architecture of the brain shapes its functioning. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140116113506.htm
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "Brain on autopilot: How the architecture of the brain shapes its functioning." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140116113506.htm (accessed October 22, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) A medical team has for the first time given a man the ability to walk again after transplanting cells from his brain onto his severed spinal cord. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Buzz60 (Oct. 21, 2014) Breeze, a portable breathalyzer, gets you home safely by instantly showing your blood alcohol content, and with one tap, lets you call an Uber, a cab or a friend from your contact list to pick you up. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) A new study says the season you're born in can determine your temperament — and one season has a surprising outcome. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Movies Might Desensitize Violence For Parents, Not Just Kids

Movies Might Desensitize Violence For Parents, Not Just Kids

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) A study suggests that parents become desensitized to violent movies as well as children, which leads them to allow their kids to view violent films. 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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

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