A neurology team from the UK has found that people had increased brain activity when they were asked to think about themselves. The authors say their findings are significant because they open the door for more research and bridge the gap between psychological and neural processes.
Other studies have shown that an area of the brain is larger in people who are good at reflecting on their own thoughts, emotions and decisions they’ve made.
The researchers looked at the structure of the volunteers’ brains using scans taken with a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner, looking for parts of the brain that correlated with introspective ability.
“We found a correlation between introspective ability and the structure of a small area of prefrontal cortex near the front of the brain,” explains Geraint Rees, study leader. The better a person was at introspection, the more grey matter they had in this area. The same was true for the white matter or nerve connections in this area.
Write It Down
Psychologists investigated the effect by asking volunteers to visit the lab for a brain scan before asking them to write for 20 minutes a day for four consecutive days. Half of the participants reflected and wrote about a recent emotional experience, while the other half wrote about a neutral experience.
Those who wrote about an emotional experience showed more activity in part of the brain called the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, which in turn dampened down neural activity linked to strong emotional feelings. Interestingly, men seemed to benefit more from writing about their feelings, than women.
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