Superfluid Brain Connectivity Streamlines Cluttered Mindscancer horoscope november
Superfluid Brain Connectivity Streamlines Cluttered Mindscancer horoscope novemberKey points Filling our minds with lots of crystallized knowledge and a sea of memories often creates overcrowded and cluttered "memoryscapes." Cluttered memory banks make it harder to recall details, but brain clutter can promote creativity if one's mind melds unrelated concepts. Robust whole-brain connectivity and less segregated neural networks help the brain streamline and declutter overcrowded memoryscapes. Source: kotoffei/Shutterstock
Brain clutter has its pros and cons. A February 2022 Trends in Cognitive Sciences review highlights how older adults’ cluttered memoryscapes can enhance creative potential in some cases but can also perpetuate forgetfulness.
In a previous post, I explored how cluttered memory banks can make it harder for older adults to remember specific details about past events. However, accumulating lots of real-life memories and decades of random knowledge can also cultivate creative thinking.
This follow-up post attempts to answer the million-dollar question: What neural mechanisms make it easier for some people to streamline their brain clutter, while others can’t seem to “tidy up” overcrowded memoryscapes in a way that promotes creativity?
To answer this question, I will review four recent papers that address whole-brain functional connectivity’s role in promoting creative thinking and fluid intelligence. I’ll also explore how superfluid neural connections might streamline jam-packed, cluttered minds.
For the record, simultaneously holding all of this evidence-based research in my brain at one time while writing this blog post makes my mind feel cluttered. So, to avoid getting scatterbrained, the research studies are presented in an easy-to-follow chronological order beginning with two papers published in January 2022.
Before diving into the latest scientific research, I’m going to start with a personal story that illustrates how daily cardio workouts at a “tonic level” seem to help my neural networks tidy up a messy assortment of real-life memories mixed with crystallized knowledge in a way that streamlines this older adult’s brain clutter.
This brain map is a hypothetical representation of how aerobic activity streamlines thinking by optimizing the functional connectivity between both cerebellar hemispheres and the left-right cerebral hemispheres. Cerebellar means “relating to the cerebellum.”Source: Photo and illustration by Christopher Bergland (circa 2009)Jogging Helps My Brain Connect the Dots Between Disparate Concepts
As a writer who reports on science news, my daily routine involves keeping tabs on embargoed studies that are about to be published and reading all of the just-published research papers I can get my hands on. Most of this crystallized knowledge is absorbed in the predawn hours while sipping coffee. As the sun rises, I usually go for a jog and let my mind wander.
Jogging declutters my brain. Running fast doesn’t have the same effect. For me, there’s a tonic level of cardio that seems to facilitate contemplative thinking. Staying in a not-too-hard-but-not-too-easy aerobic zone promotes flow state experiences.
Whenever I’m experiencing flow physically, my thinking also seems to become more fluid. Superfluidity, which is a word I borrowed from the world of physics, is marked by frictionless flow, no entropy, and zero viscosity.
As a real-time example of how this works, when I first read the new Trends in Cognitive Sciences review paper a few days ago over predawn coffee, I didn’t immediately realize how it might relate to other recent studies on whole-brain connectivity. But as I was jogging on the treadmill and watching the sun come up, I had an “aha!” moment.
In a flash, my brain instantaneously coordinated how the four seemingly unrelated scientific papers described below are interconnected and fit together. Anecdotally, this exemplifies how physically coordinated movements that rely on robust cerebro-cerebellar circuitry between the cerebrum and cerebellum may also facilitate superfluid, coordinated thinking.
Increasingly, neuroscientists posit that the cerebellum coordinates our thoughts much like it coordinates our motions. This hypothesis was recently updated and expanded upon in a theoretical Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience paper, “Cerebellar Coordination of Neuronal Communication in Cerebral Cortex,” published on January 11, 2022.
In this paper, Samuel McAfee et al. provide evidence supporting a new perspective that the cerebellum coordinates whole-brain communication much like it coordinates whole-body movements.
As the authors explain, “Brain-wide functional networks identified with functional MRI reflect spatial patterns of neuronal activity that are temporally coordinated [by the cerebellum] on the scale of hundreds of milliseconds to seconds.” (See, “The Neuroscience of Superfluid Thinking.”)
The second paper in this chronological review, “The Resting-State Cerebro-Cerebellar Function Connectivity and Associations With Verbal Working Memory Performance,” was published in the peer-reviewed journal Behavioural Brain Research on January 24, 2022.
The results of this neuroimaging study showed that more robust functional connectivity between central hubs in the cerebellum and the cerebrum’s default mode network (DMN) and salient network (SN) was associated with better verbal working memory (VWM) performance. VWM temporarily stores verbalizable information (e.g., words, phrases) used during written and spoken communication.
Source: wan wei/ShutterstockWhole-Brain Connectivity and Less Segregated Neural Networks Help Declutter Our Minds
These findings dovetail with the third paper, “Brain Connectivity–Based Prediction of Real-Life Creativity Is Mediated by Semantic Memory Structure,” published on February 4, 2022, in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances.
Here, first author Marcela Ovando-Tellez et al. create fMRI-based brain maps showing that highly creative people tend to have less segregated neural networks and more robust whole-brain functional connectivity.
This research suggests that creative thinking benefits from the fluidity of less modular neural networks. It appears to be easier for people with more robust whole-brain connectivity to retrieve semantic memories from the distant corners of their minds and make associative connections that combine different ideas in ways they can articulate and verbalize. (See, “Fluid Whole-Brain Connectivity Supports Creative Thinking.”)
This brings us to the fourth and final study, “Multitask Brain Network Reconfiguration Is Inversely Associated with Human Intelligence,” published on February 6, 2022, in the peer-reviewed journal Cerebral Cortex.
Here, Jonas Thiele et al. identify that people with more fluid brain architecture—which they describe as the multitask brain network—can easily switch gears between different cognitive tasks. Their brains require less reconfiguration from a resting state to a working mode.
The researchers posit that the neural efficiency supported by robust whole-brain connectivity promotes higher intelligence. Conversely, people with more rigid network configurations have less efficient brains. General intelligence appears to benefit from flexible neural networks housed in brain architecture that’s less modular and more fluid.
When looking at all of this research through the lens of the recent (2022) review of how older adults’ cluttered memoryscapes can either promote creativity or make it difficult to remember details, one could speculate that people with more fluid whole-brain connectivity and less segregated neural networks are more efficient thinkers.
Collectively, the neuroscience-based evidence presented herein suggests that the combination of robust whole-brain connectivity and less segregated neural networks makes it easier for our minds to connect the dots between seemingly unrelated concepts. This is most likely to occur if thoughts and ideas are coordinated in a way that reduces the entropy of chaotic memory representations and declutters one’s mind.
Keeping multiple neural networks synced up and working in concert seems to streamline associative thinking and support creativity. Additionally, emerging evidence suggests that well-coordinated, rhythmic aerobic activity that engages all four brain hemispheres may fortify interhemispheric connectivity between the cerebrum and cerebellum in ways that promote superfluid brain connectivity.
Tarek Amer, Jordana S. Wynn, Lynn Hasher. “Cluttered Memory Representations Shape Cognition in Old Age.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences (In press, corrected proof first available online: February 11, 2022) DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2021.12.002
Jonas A. Thiele, Joshua Faskowitz, Olaf Sporns, Kirsten Hilger. “Multitask Brain Network Reconfiguration Is Inversely Associated with Human Intelligence.” Cerebral Cortex (First published: February 06, 2022) DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhab473
Marcela Ovando-Tellez, Yoed N. Kenett, Mathias Benedek, Matthieu Bernard, Joan Belo, Benoit Beranger, Theophile Bieth, Emmanuelle Volle. “Brain Connectivity–Based Prediction of Real-Life Creativity Is Mediated by Semantic Memory Structure.” Science Advances (First published: February 04, 2022) DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abl4294
Yanyan Li, Lihao Yang, Lihua Li, Yuanjun Xi, Peng Fang. “The Resting-State Cerebro-Cerebellar Function Connectivity and Associations With Verbal Working Memory Performance.” Behavioural Brain Research (First published: January 24, 2022) DOI: 10.1016/j.bbr.2021.113586
Samuel S. McAfee, Yu Liu, Roy V. Sillitoe, and Detlef H. Heck. “Cerebellar Coordination of Neuronal Communication in Cerebral Cortex.” Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience (First published: January 11, 2022) DOI: 10.3389/fnsys.2021.781527
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