B L Razdan
“We are different because our brain is wired differently. This causes us to perceive the world in different ways and have different values and priorities. Not better or worse – different.” (Allan and Barbara Pease)
Many a strife would not have taken place, many a tiff could have been avoided, many an argument could have been prevented, many a spat would not have existed, many a squabble would not at all have been there; if only one were to understand that we are all wired differently. Because of the different ways our brains are wired, we all experience reality in different ways and any single way is essentially distorted. Since we are all wired differently, we all handle things differently; we all get our energy from different places; we all have different driving forces; we all have different triggers; we all want to be our truest and most authentic self. This is something that we need to acknowledge. If we want to know what is true and what to do about it, we must understand our own brain. How our brain is wired reveals the real us or me for that matter.
The brain’s wiring patterns can shed a lot of light on a person’s positive and negative traits, researchers reported in Nature Neuroscience. The finding is the first from the Human Connectome Project (HCP), an international effort to map active connections between neurons in different parts of the human brain. The HCP, which launched a survey in 2010 at a cost of US$40 million, sought to scan the brain networks, or connectomes, of 1,200 adults. Among its goals was to chart the networks that are active when the brain is idle; these are thought to keep the different parts of the brain connected in case they need to perform a task.
A branch of the project led by one of the HCP’s co-chairs, biomedical engineer Stephen Smith at the University of Oxford released a database of resting-state connectomes from about 460 people between 22 and 35 years of age. Each brain scan was supplemented by information on approximately 280 traits, such as the person’s age, whether he has a history of drug use, his socioeconomic status and personality traits, and the performance on various intelligence tests. Smith and his colleagues ran a massive computer analysis to look at how these traits varied among the volunteers, and how the traits correlated with different brain connectivity patterns. The team was surprised to find a single, stark difference in the way brains were connected. People with more ‘positive’ variables, such as more education, better physical endurance and above-average performance on memory tests, shared the same patterns. Their brains seemed to be more strongly connected than those of people with ‘negative’ traits such as smoking, aggressive behaviour or a family history of alcohol abuse.
Professor Adam Grant of Wharton School of Psychology and legendary investor and billionaire Ray Dalio devised and came out with self-assessment tools, called PrinciplesYou. Unlike other such tools, one can use these not only to learn about oneself, but also to better understand one’s relationships with one’s employees, teammates, friends, and even one’s partner or spouse. Dalio spent a lot of time examining the psychometric testing and neuroscience, which led to a broad finding that was rather compelling and simple: there is power from understanding how humans are wired. His interesting findings are:
* That we are born with innate attributes and dispositions that help us and hurt us depending on their application. This is a reference to our personality attributes, which predisposes us to act and think in certain ways. This gives us strengths and therefore corresponding weaknesses.
* That we are social animals, and are built for meaningful work and relationships; humans crave social connection, and therefore building a life optimised for meaningful work alongside meaningful people is a need, not a want.
* That we should understand the ‘great brain battles’ in order to control them in the pursuit of our goals; the idea of the ‘two yous’, where you have to fight your lower brain in order to achieve better outcomes; the idea that you must not let emotion and pride cloud your thinking; the idea that you should choose your habits well, as habits are the amongst the most powerful mental barriers we have.
* That habits are hugely powerful and very important when executing on a plan to chase your goals. One sub-principle of note is that we should train our lower brains with kindness and persistence to build the right habits; when our lower brain messes up, treat it as we would a child who doesn’t know any better.
* That the subconscious can be harnessed for creativity. He recommends periods where you clear your head, in order to let creative thoughts from the subconscious in. But he also warns to analyse these thoughts logically, and to never act on them in impulse.
These principles help us understand the way our brains work to manage ourselves, as also to understand the human brains in general to orchestrate others.
It’s often said that creative people see the world differently than the rest of us -and a Harvard researcher is providing one answer why. Scientists studying brain scans of people who were asked to come up with inventive uses for everyday objects found a specific pattern of connectivity that correlated with the most creative responses. Researchers were then able to use that pattern to predict how creative other people’s responses would be based on their connections in this network. The study is described in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“What this shows is that the creative brain is wired differently,” said Roger Beaty, a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Psychology and the first author of the study. “People who are more creative can simultaneously engage brain networks that don’t typically work together. We also used predictive modelling to show we could predict, with some degree of accuracy, how creative people’s ideas were (based on brain scans) that had already been published.” Beaty and colleagues re-analysed brain data from previous studies and found that, by simply measuring the strength of connections in these peoples’ brain networks, they could estimate how original their ideas would be.
While the data showed that regions across the brain were involved in creative thought, Beaty said the evidence pointed to three subnetworks – the default mode network, the salience network and the executive control network – that appear to play key roles in creative thought. The default mode network, he said, is involved in memory and mental simulation, so the theory is that it plays an important role in processes like mind-wandering, imagination, and spontaneous thinking. “In terms of creativity, we think that’s important for brainstorming,” Beaty said. “But you’re not always going to stumble onto the most creative idea that way, because you might be drawn to something unoriginal from memory, so that’s when these other networks come online.”
The salience network, he said, detects important information, both in the environment and internally. When it comes to creativity, researchers believe it may be responsible for sorting through the ideas that emerge from the default mode network. Lastly, Beaty said, the executive control network works to help people keep their focus on useful ideas while discarding those that aren’t working. “It’s the synchrony between these systems that seems to be important for creativity,” Beaty said. “People who think more flexibly and come up with more creative ideas are better able to engage these networks that don’t typically work together and bring these systems online.”
To identify the brain network involved in creativity, Beaty and colleagues recruited a total of 163 volunteers, and used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology to scan their brains as they tried to conceive of creative ideas for everyday objects, like a brick or a knife or a rope. The team then trained “raters” to review the responses from participants and evaluate how creative their ideas were. “Creativity is typically defined as the ability to come up with new and useful ideas,” Beaty said. “We correlated the connectivity strength in this network while they were thinking creatively with the quality of their responses.” Based on the results of that test, Beaty and colleagues developed a predictive model and tested against brain scan data collected for earlier studies on creativity.
Yes, we are all just wired differently. In fact, each human is wired uniquely. By its very nature, the wiring of our brain cannot alone account for different personality, emotion, political outlook, skill, talent or ability since even individuals with similar traits would necessarily have different neural wiring. Even genetic identity (twins and/or clones) results in different experience, such as Scott Kelly experiencing ten times as many days in orbit as his twin brother. Thankfully, this is good news! It not only means that our experience shapes our traits
B L Razdan