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How our brain tracks the location of others is strangely consistent between brains



When navigating in space, facts have proved that the human brain forms a very similar space-aware brain waves. Scientists discovered this by inventing a method to scan our brains during free movement, instead of lying in a scanner.

Nanthia Suthana, a neurosurgeon at the University of California, Los Angeles, explained: “Our results show that our brains create a universal feature that can trap ourselves in other people’s troubles.

Previous research in rats has shown that low-frequency brain waves can help rodents track their location as they explore new places by defining the boundaries of places. Similar boundary-defining waves have been found in humans, but they are only found when they are navigating in a virtual environment and they are still scanning the brain.

Matthias Stangl, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), said: “We want to study this idea among people and test whether they can also monitor other people nearby, but it is hindered by existing technology.

So Stangl and his colleagues created a mobile brain scanner that consists of a backpack and a computer that is wirelessly connected to electrodes implanted in the brain (a system called intracranial electroencephalography). To help them study how our brains form and recall spatial memories.

Wireless recording equipment.  (UCL)Wireless recording equipment. (Suthana Laboratories/UCLA)

Their subjects are five epileptic patients who have implanted electrodes in their brains to help control seizures. These implants are located in the middle temporal lobe-our brain is thought to encode long-term, purposeful memory and spatial cognition.

Participants participated in a 15-minute navigation task, asking them to find and understand the location of hidden objects in the room. Next is a 15-minute observation task. Participants must track the navigation of other people in the room and press a button when other people pass an unmarked target location.

Researchers found that as participants approached physical boundaries (such as the walls of a room), the power of low-frequency oscillatory streams in the brain increased. The same happened when they watched other people approach the wall.

They wrote in the paper: “We found that between the tasks that require self-navigation and observing another person, the boundary-related oscillation changes are very similar.”

Recent studies in rats and bats have also found that the same group of hippocampal neurons encode both the animal’s own position and the positions of other species in its species.

As participants focus on finding the target location, the power of these spaces represented by brain waves (as shown in the figure below) also increases. Oscillating signals are not continuous and do not change the number of occurrences of them, just the intensity.

A visualized brainwave intensity map of the room boundary.  (Suthana Laboratory, University of California, Los Angeles)(Suthana Laboratories/UCLA)

the above: Visualized brain wave intensity map at the border of the room. Red indicates that the brain wave signal has more power.

Stanger said: “Our findings support the idea that in certain mental states, this brain wave pattern can help us identify boundaries.” “In this case, people focus on the goal and look for something time.”

The electrical activity being measured oscillates in a frequency range called theta wave. Usually, we produce these slow but obvious waves when navigating, so it is not surprising to make them obvious in such a task.

Interestingly, some buzzing gamma waves also appear in similar patterns, with greater differences between different conditions. These are the waves that arise when we use more brains to think and absorb experience into our working memory.

The research team believes that the brain waves they observe are generated by multiple groups of neurons, which may include cells that specifically code boundaries, objects, and other boundaries and target objects. A better understanding of this neuronal language can help us solve brain diseases.

And, in an exciting development, they made the backpack design available to other researchers. Soon, we can expect to learn more about our brain wave patterns in the complex social environment.

Their research is published in nature.


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