The Importance of Your Brain's Unique Neural Signatures
People are made up of cells, tissues, a beating heart, and outer skin. However, we’re also made of memories. What’s more, our experiences create the brain’s neural signatures, to such an extent that no two brains are exactly alike. Each of us is unique and exceptional.
We could say that the real you isn’t only based on everything you’ve experienced. It’s how you remember each of those experiences that makes you who you are. You live inside a self that’s shaped by memories, by everything you’ve felt, and also the way you interpret these things, and store them in your extensive memory banks.
This specific, complex, and transcendental process is what makes us all so different. Yes, it’s true that the organization and architecture of the brain is something that’s common to us all. However, in its depths, and, above all, in the way it’s organized and the connections it makes, it’s unique and draws its own neural signatures on every one of us.
Your unique neural signatures
Despite the fact that neuroscience is increasingly giving us more answers and information about how the brain works, we still have many questions. So much so, that this organ is shrouded in nearly as many mysteries as the universe itself.
For example, we still don’t know how to repair or heal memory loss in an Alzheimer’s patient. We know what to do to heal a broken leg, but we don’t know how to fully recover the abilities of a patient with a severe head injury. Neither do we know how to help heal a child with a severe autism spectrum disorder.
We can only try to improve their quality of life and rehabilitate them to a certain extent. We still don’t know how to return their brain to complete normality.
In spite of this, we continue to make progress. There’s now a palpable hope that we may reach that goal in the future.
Recently, the University of Rochester in New York took another step in that journey to understand the enigmas inscribed on the human brain. Thanks to their research, we now know that each one of us has our own neurological signature that defines much of who we really are.
The brain networks that make up your memories and sensations create your neurological signature
The research, led by Dr. Andrew James of the University of Rochester, was published in November 2020 in the scientific journal Nature Communications. Some of their conclusions were:
- Each person builds their own memories, using the brain regions that are specific to those processes. However, the brain creates networks, that is, different neural connections, based on the way we assimilate each memory.
- For example, every experience and sensation is also filtered through our emotional world. Sometimes, these images or experiences from the past are covered by specific emotions in which colors and smells are also integrated.
- All this creates its own distinctive neural signatures. In other words, each experience shapes brain organization networks that form a kind of imprint on the brain, almost like a fingerprint, or “brainprint” in this case. And these “fingerprints” are unique to each individual.
The challenge of knowing how we each organize our memories
One of the challenges neuroscience is currently facing is to get to know more about these “fingerprints”, these neural signatures of the brain. This is also where cognitive science comes in, which seeks to understand how we organize and manipulate those memories. But how could all of this benefit us?
- Through magnetic resonances, we can observe each person’s brain activity when it comes to organizing memories.
- Being able to identify those “fingerprints” would allow us to obtain a neurological profile of each person, a kind of brain ID card if you like.
- As we age, many of these “fingerprints” become blurred. Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, act as “erasers”, weakening, blurring, and eventually eliminating those neurological signatures.
- Knowing how each patient’s brain is connected and organized would allow us, in the future, to develop drugs that would allow us to preserve those original architectures.
- On the other hand, the brain’s “fingerprints” can allow us to make faster diagnoses to identify everything from dementia to schizophrenia and even severe depression. Something like this will make it easier for us to create more effective and individualized therapies.
Neural signatures and the importance of creating new memories
Memory isn’t a video camera that records and stores every event as a perfect frame. Memory is an active process involving the interaction of several factors, such as personality, state of mind, and life experiences. Each one of us does it our own way, and that models our brain on a daily basis.
Nothing is as decisive for psychological well-being as continuing to solidify and affirm memories and to continue to experience them. In every experience, every conversation held, every book read, every trip enjoyed, and every new thing we learn, new “fingerprints” are created in the brain. These new “signatures”, or nerve connections, improve our brain’s architecture.
All of this produces cognitive reserve, mental agility, and the ability to preserve our true selves as we grow older. Experiencing and learning are synonymous with better living. Directing your life towards physical, and especially mental, activity, and remaining curious and eager to interact with your surroundings will go a long way towards guaranteeing happiness.It might interest you...
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- Andrew James Anderson, Kelsey McDermott, Brian Rooks, Kathi L. Heffner, David Dodell-Feder, Feng V. Lin. Decoding individual identity from brain activity elicited in imagining common experiences. Nature Communications, 2020; 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-19630-y