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Saturday, December 15, 2007

New theory of brain flexibility offers to explain rapid coping mechanisms

Carnegie Mellon University neuroscientist Marcel Just and Stanford postdoctoral fellow Sashank Varma have put forward a new theory of brain flexibility, according to ScienceDaily that gives some insight into how tasks get organized in our brains:
Some researchers have been tempted to conclude that a simple one-to-one relationship exists between high-level mental tasks and brain areas. For example, some believe that a specific brain area is responsible for a specific cognitive task, such as identifying a face.
Just and Varma, however, propose that the evidence reveals a more complex picture in which thinking is a network function -- a collaboration of several brain areas that is constantly adapting itself, based on the task at hand and the brain's own resources and biological limitations. The collaborating parts of the brain, according to Just, are like members of a sports team whose players substitute in and out of the action.

They call their theory 4CAPS (for Capacity Constrained Concurrent Cortical Activation-based Production System). The article notes,
A unique characteristic of the theory is that it can accurately predict the change in brain activation that results from some types of brain damage or disease. For example, if a stroke damages the part of the brain known as Broca's area -- which is located in the left prefrontal cortex and is involved in language processing -- the corresponding site on the right side of the brain often becomes activated during language processing, even within hours after a stroke.

I can't comment on the status of the theory. I will say this, though: We all know of people who have regained functions that they weren't "supposed to", after a brain misfortune. It is nice to read about a theory that is not in conflict with reality.

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