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New Study Says We’ve Been Studying the Brain the Wrong Way

Mar 21, 2013 03:46 PM EDT

Traditionally, researchers studying the brain have focused on the area believed to be associated with a specific task. A new study, however, suggests the brain isn't as compartmentalized as science thus far has made it out to be.

David Alexander and Cees van Leeuwen from the Laboratory for Perceptual Dynamics decided to examine activity throughout the brain rather in just pieces.

"The brain is a non-stop, always active system," Alexander explains in article published on "When we perceive something, the information does not end up in a specific part of the brain. Rather, it is added to the brain's existing activity."

When measured in electrochemical activity, the researchers reported waves that moved from one part of the brain to the other. Local activity in the Brodmann areas - parts of the brain thought to correspond with certain functions - only exist when averaged over the course of many waves.

It's true, Alexander says, that when a person drums their fingers the brain's motor system will always engage.

"But with each individual action, you still get a different wave across the cortex as a whole," Alexander explains.

And this wave is the part of brain functioning that has gone overlooked.

For example, what else a person is thinking about or what else may be going on around a person can affect the brain's overall activity. Even a person's age can affect the brain waves.

Clearly, Alexander says, the nature of these waves is "meaningful."

"With further research," the scientists says, "we hope to unravel what these different wave trajectories mean."

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