Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

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A Co-activation Network for the Brain

How is the brain organized? Maybe not the way you think!

Although the canonical picture of brain organization suggests that (for example) visual perception happens in the back of the brain, language is processed in the middle of the left hemisphere, and executive function is localized to the frontal cortex, Prof. Anderson and his students have been pioneering a different way to approach the data. The result is to give the brain a new look.

This new approach involves gathering large numbers of fMRI studies of the activity of the brain under many different conditions and, using techniques borrowed from data-mining and graph theory, seeing which brain areas are active at the same time (co-active) under various conditions.

The attached pictures show some results of one such analysis; here black circles are brain regions, and orange lines between them indicate they co-activate to support tasks in the cognitive domains of interest (attention and language, respectively). Note that many of the same regions support tasks in both domains, but that they are co-active with different partners in each domain.

In contrast to the canonical picture, this new representation of brain organization emphasizes the degree to which brain function is determined not by which regions are active at any given time, but by the patterns of cooperation between regions. The results suggest we need to re-think the underlying basis of cognitive functions and the boundaries between cognitive domains, and may help lead to a more scientifically precise and fruitful understanding of what thinking is.

  • BFB coactivation callout 1
  • Language Web
  • BFB coactivation callout 2
  • Attention Web