Fluctuating brain networks help you handle complex tasks

Your brain's regions integrate closely when things get complicated.


Researchers already know that the human brain isn't static, but it's now clear just how dynamic the mind can be. A Stanford University team has discovered that the networking between brain regions will fluctuate depending on the complexity of tasks. If you're at rest, your brain's components are relatively isolated. Handle a complicated activity, however, and the level of networking ramps up. The more interconnected your brain is, the better your performance -- in a memory test, those with the most integrated brains were the quickest and most accurate.

Stanford used some uncommon techniques to make this discovery. They started by studying open source brain data from the Human Connectome Project to see how the brain coordinates activity, and then used functional MRI scans to explain what they'd seen. As it turns out, you can pinpoint instances of networking by tracking the blood flow in brain region pairs. Your pupil size may also be a giveaway as to what's going on. If your pupils widen, that's an indication that your brain is amplifying stronger signals in a bid to coordinate.

As important as the research is, it's just the start. Scientists want to see if what they've learned applies to attention spans, memory and other aspects of thought. The work could ultimately improve our understanding of brain diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Whether or not it does, you now have a better sense of how your mind tackles problems. It's not just what you know that matters, it's how that knowledge is processed and shared.