Mind Blowing Facts: Shrinking Brain
Call it the ultimate brain freeze.
Researchers have discovered that living at a lonely research outpost in Antarctica for more than a year shrinks the human brain.
It's not the temperatures as low as minus 58 degrees that do it, though. The study's lead author says it's actually the social isolation of living with just eight co-workers, and the day-to-day monotony of being surrounded by miles and miles of whiteness.
"Communication with the outside world is extremely limited. While there is an internet connection, this runs via satellite and bandwidth is very low," study lead Alexander Stahn, of the Institute of Physiology at Berlin's medical university and an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a video.
"There is hardly any privacy, no escape from the daily reality of life in the Antarctic. Even emergency evacuations are limited to certain times of the year and are nearly impossible during approximately eight months which make up the Antarctic winter”.
Stahn and his colleagues studied the brains of nine people who spent 14 months at Neumayer-Station III, a German center that focuses on climate research and other related topics.
Through imaging, cognitive tests and other benchmarks taken before and after the team's stint at the station, the scientists found that one part of the team members' brains had shrunk an average of 7.2%. The effects were shown in an area of the hippocampus responsible for spatial thinking and memory.
The results were recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Similar results were previously observed in mice, Stahn said. The study was conducted to see how the isolation of space travel could affect the human brain, and the Neumayer station provided the perfect conditions. He cautioned that the study group was small, so more research is needed.