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First evidence of common brain code for space, time, distance

Date:
February 4, 2014
Source:
Dartmouth College
Summary:
A new study provides the first evidence that people use the same brain circuitry to figure out space, time and social distances. The results may help to determine whether we care enough to act: Is something happening here, now, to someone I love? Or over there, years from now, to a stranger?

A new Dartmouth study provides the first evidence that people use the same brain circuitry to figure out space, time and social distances.
Credit: James Steidl / Fotolia

A new Dartmouth study provides the first evidence that people use the same brain circuitry to figure out space, time and social distances.

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The findings, which help reveal how our brains organize information and create our perspective of the world, appear in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The researchers looked at whether there is an overlap, or a common mechanism, in the brain areas used to represent time, space and social distances. They used fMRI to analyze the brain patterns of participants while they viewed objects photographed at different distances, viewed photos of friends or acquaintances and read phrases referring to the immediate or more remote future.

"The results showed that the same brain patterns that decide whether something is physically near to us versus far away also decide whether we are thinking about the near or distant future or seeing a friend versus an acquaintance," said senior author Thalia Wheatley, an associate professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences. "In other words, there is a common neural code for space, time and social distance. Near, now and dear (friends) activate one pattern and far, later and acquaintance activate a different pattern.

"There are interesting implications for this," she said. "For one, it suggests why we use distance metaphors to talk about time and friendship -- for example, close friends and distant relatives. These metaphors stick because they echo the very neural computations involved. Our brains use distance to understand time and social connectedness. This mapping function may have a particularly important benefit in determining whether we care enough to act: Is something happening here, now, to someone I love? Or over there, years from now, to a stranger?"


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Dartmouth College. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. C. Parkinson, S. Liu, T. Wheatley. A Common Cortical Metric for Spatial, Temporal, and Social Distance. Journal of Neuroscience, 2014; 34 (5): 1979 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2159-13.2014

Cite This Page:

Dartmouth College. "First evidence of common brain code for space, time, distance." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140204123730.htm>.
Dartmouth College. (2014, February 4). First evidence of common brain code for space, time, distance. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 4, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140204123730.htm
Dartmouth College. "First evidence of common brain code for space, time, distance." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140204123730.htm (accessed March 4, 2015).

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