An international team of researchers from Indiana University and Switzerland is using data mapping methods created to track the spread of information on social networks to trace its dissemination across a surprisingly different system: the human brain.
The research team from the IU Bloomington Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and School of Informatics and Computing found that applying social network models to the brain reveals specific connections and nodes that may be responsible for higher forms of cognition.
The results are reported in today’s issue of the journal Neuron.
“This study suggests that answers about where in the brain higher cognition occurs may lie in the way that these areas are embedded in the network,” said IU Distinguished Professor Olaf Sporns, who is senior author on the study. “You can’t see this just by looking at a static network. You need to look at dynamic patterns.
“Each thought or action involves multiple signals, cascading through the brain, turning on other nodes as they spread. Where these cascades come together, that’s where integration of multiple signals can occur. We think that this sort of integration is a hallmark of higher cognition.”
Other lead researchers on the paper are Yong-Yeol Ahn and Alessandro Flammini, both of the IU Bloomington School of Informatics and Computing. An expert on complex networks, Ahn had previously used data from Twitter to track information spreading through social networks, including constructing analyses that predict which memes will go viral.