In a 2013 study through the UChicago hospitals, professor David Freeman and a PhD student, Chris Rishel, have made some interesting finds regarding multitasking on the level of individual neurons. Using monkeys, Dr. Freedman has shown that the current beliefs regarding the regionalization and discrete function of each region as being separate from every other region are not necessarily true.
In this study, the test subjects were required to categorize two spatial stimuli into two different groups. The results of this primary study showed that this categorization primarily occurred in the lateral intraparietal region of the brain. The most interesting part of this study, however, was the addition in the second part of the study: because this region of the brain is also associated with eye movement, the research team added a series of visual checkpoints that the test subject had to follow as well as perform the same categorization. Interestingly enough, the neurons processed both signals at the same time, with the action potentials triggering together.
…parietal brain cells showed a simultaneous and independent encoding of both eye-movement and category information — multiplexing of information at the level of single brain cells.
This is fascinating research which suggests that the brain’s potential is actually significantly greater than previously thought. If one part of the brain can process multiple stimuli simultaneously, rather than each part having its own discrete function, the brain’s possible potential rises dramatically. This study reinforces the other study I blogged about some weeks ago, about blind people being able to use their visual centers to process language. The brain’s plasticity is not something purely developmental, then, and is truly a flexible unit for a variety of functions.
Read the UChicago article on the study here.