Recently, MRI scans have revealed the intricacies and complexities of infant brains. There is more here than meets the eye.
Mature adults have visual cortex regions that respond to facial recognition or certain objects. Yet how these patterns form grooves in the brain has long puzzled scientists.
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One method of finding out the solution to this problem is to study the brains of little infants and then compare them to the brains of adults. However, scanning the brains of infants in an MRI machine is a troublesome task. Recently, scientists at MIT found a way out of this conundrum.
They changed the MRI scanners so that the infants’ brains could be examined while they engaged in their routine fun and play activities. As the babies watched colorful movies and got entertained by various visual stimuli, they were surreptitiously scanned by an MRI machine.
The infants’ brains were found to be similar in their basics to adults’ brains. Both the areas in the brains that were responsible for facial recognition and scene retrieval were similar in adults and babies. There is thus a potent biological drive to have cortical regions end up with specific functionalities.
MRI is the basic technique to study brain function in adults. However, it has seldom been used in babies. Babies are very active and tend to move around every few seconds while they are awake.
This is not conducive to being subject to MRI scans on a consistent basis. Babies like to be in charge and do not have the discipline to sit still long enough for an MRI scan to do its job.
This is because of obvious reasons. MRI machines have a loud, dark apparatus that requires patients to show up on time, sit still and concentrate on an object for long periods while following a plan.
The setup was made nice and comfy for babies by the researchers. MRI scanners were modified. A coil was made that allowed babies to sit in a certain position in an unhindered way.
A mirror in front of the baby’s face allows it to view movies. There is also an area for a guardian or a researcher to sit down with the baby and interact with it. The noise levels were muffled too.
After much noting down of the babies’ reactions, the researchers were able to collate four hours worth of data. It showed them how the adult brain happens to conceive of the structure it possesses upon maturity after a long and eventful childhood.
The babies learn to distinguish scenes and objects not to mention faces from one another. Vision is the main function through which this differentiation takes place. It is after all the most beautiful of senses. The babies’ brains were not as selective as the adults’ brains. Adults’ brains were more specialized.