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Study: Your Brain Works Like the Internet

Online Learning Has Colorado Schools Nervous

Your brain functions a lot like the Internet or a network of friends, scientists said Tuesday.

Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the activity in peoples' brains and how different regions connect. They conclude the human brain can be visualized as a complex interacting network that relies on nodes to efficiently convey information from place to place.

Very few jumps are necessary to connect any two nodes, the study found.

"This so-called 'small world' property allows for the most efficient connectivity," said Dante Chialvo, a physiologist at Northwestern University.

Other networks -- social and biochemical -- rely on the same principle.

The scientists measured the degree of correlation between activities in tens of thousands of brain regions. They found that many of the nodes had only a few connections, and a small number of nodes were connected to many others. These "super-connected" nodes act as hubs -- as with the Internet or your most gossipy friend -- getting the word out quickly and widely.

So maybe, the thinking goes, if you can figure out how the Internet works -- or why your gossipy friend succeeds -- then you can grasp your own mind.

Or, put more scientifically, these findings of basic principles of brain function suggest "that the underlying properties can be understood using the theoretical framework already advanced in the study of other, disparate, networks," Chialvo said. The research could help frame other studies of the brain's role in schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease and chronic pain, Chialvo and his colleagues say.

The results were detailed in the Dec. 31 online version of the journal Physical Review Letters.

Robert Roy Britt
Rob was a writer and editor at Space.com starting in 1999. He served as managing editor of Live Science at its launch in 2004. He is now Chief Content Officer overseeing media properties for the sites’ parent company, Purch. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, and in 1998 he was founder and editor of the science news website ExploreZone. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.