How reliable is your brain, really?

Most people assume that their brains are a stable and reliable tool that works consistently. But amazingly, our brain responses are very different from those of other people.

An image of the human brain (photo credit: REUTERS)
An image of the human brain
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Do you trust your brain? Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have shown that every adult has unique brain reliability. This and other findings, published in eNeuro, the new flagship, peer-reviewed journal of the International Society of Neuroscience, offer the possibility of better identification and more accurate assessment for neurological and psychiatric disorders, including autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Most people assume that their brain is a stable and reliable tool that works consistently. But amazingly, our brain responses are very different from those of other people. Even when we see the same object over and over again, our brains react differently each time, and the variation is surprising in size (difference is the opposite of reliability). It is even more surprising that each of us has a different level of difference/reliability that characterizes us throughout most of our adult lives.
“Some of us have a brain that works more reliably and consistently than others, and this reliability can be measured when we record adult brain responses in the electro-encephalogram [EEG] imaging method,” explained Prof. Ilan Dinstein, head of the research team and director of the BGU’s Negev Autism Research Center. “The brain is a very stable characteristic of each person regardless of the task he or she performs; that is, whether it performs one task or another – and this characteristic, brain reliability, is very consistent over time – even when they were examined a year apart. All of the findings lead to the conclusion that, for better or worse, each of us has a brain with a certain level of reliability.”
Until recently, most scientists thought that brain reliability depended mainly on how attention was directed to the task being performed. Dinstein and the research team show that attentiveness is negligible compared to the identity of the person, which is the main factor.
“The interesting question is whether people with greater brain reliability have different abilities than those with lower brain reliability,” added Dinstein. “For example, in previous research, we showed that people with higher brain reliability have been able to identify visual stimuli more accurately. But other animal studies have shown that too much reliability probably leads to fixation, inability to change, problems in learning new skills and adapting behavior to unfamiliar situations. We plan to examine this issue in humans in other studies in our lab.”
At the same time, the team used EEG records during sleep in young children to test whether low brain reliability is an early marker of autism. “We hope these findings can help in early and accurate diagnosis of the neural problem in at least some cases of autism. Autism is a very heterogeneous syndrome, but we expect that the understanding of brain activity in autism will allow us to develop and test specific treatments within the Autistic Center,” Dinstein said.