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Our Brains are Still Getting Bigger

The human brain is still evolving and becoming larger, according to researchers who have analyzed two genes that regulate brain size. These genes, associated with larger brain size, appeared at about the same times as the emergence of culture, agriculture, and written language in human populations. On the other hand, researchers have also discovered that brain size alone does not necessarily determine intelligence, because while bird brains are tiny, parrots are some of the most intelligent creatures on this planet.

Researcher Bruce T. Lahn, who published a paper in the journal Science about his discovery of the ASPM and MSPM genes, says, "ASPM has evolved most rapidly in the last six million years of hominid evolution, after the divergence of humans and chimpanzees. The next logical question was to ask whether the same process is still going on today."

He sequenced the two genes in an ethnically diverse selection of 90 people. He also sequenced the genes in chimpanzees, because they are our closest relatives. MSPM first appeared around 37,000 years ago, while ASPM is the most recent gene that affects brain growth, since it first appeared around 5,800 years ago. This was around the time that humans discovered agriculture and began creating cities. It?s when the first written language occurred.

Lahn believes the human brain will likely continue to evolve and will eventually become even larger.

What about those of us who are getting older and feel like our brains are DEvolving? Studies have shown that older people who forget names or lose their car keys can easily become sharper and better organized just by doing a few simple mental exercises.

Scientists have known for years that as we get older, the brain tends to function less efficiently, and electrical currents connecting different areas of the brain get weaker. Now studies have shown that this gradual deterioration can be reversed.

"Our bodies are getting healthier, and we're living much longer, and the biggest threat now to being able to function well and productively when we're older is in the functioning of the brain," says neurologist Ian Robertson.

Robertson did a study involving volunteers over the age of 50 whose brain performance was measured before and after mental training. The results showed "very significant" improvements in mental capabilities after just a few days of training. Other research has shown that the mental age of 60-year-olds can be reduced by 14 years after a three-week mental training session.

Robertson says, "We're all familiar with older people who tell the same story again and again without realizing they've told it before to the same person. As we get older, we tend not to use our attention system, our ability to concentrate on what's going on around us, because we tend to think we've seen it all before, and we see what we expect to see rather than what's actually there. As this happens, our frontal lobes, the attention system in the brain, is switched off. This is when we start behaving in an absent-minded way?for example, you might forget your keys or get into your car and go to your place of work without remembering that you shouldn't be at work that day."

One of the best ways to stay mentally sharp is to read the edge news on this website every day. Make sure we?ll be here tomorrow: subscribe today. Fill your mind with brain-stretching new ideas by listening to this weekend's Dreamland show. For subscribers, Whitley talks with Knights Templar Mark Pinkham about a mysterious man he once met whose message was incredibly mind-expanding.

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