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Growing up changes our brain’s reaction to understanding stories: Research

by Pragati Singh

Researchers have shown that when our brain is exposed to the social or emotional stimuli depicted in a specific film, it reacts differently from infancy to maturity.

Throughout the first 20 years of life, there are significant changes in our capacity to detect and recall the world around us. Although it is well acknowledged that older children and adults are better able to comprehend and analyse their environment and foresee future events, the alterations in brain activity that underlie this phase of knowledge acquisition are not entirely understood. According to the primary author, Samantha S. Cohen, Postdoctoral Scientist, Department of Psychology, Columbia University, US, “In adults, viewing a movie produces synchronised brain responses across different persons, reflecting how they perceive, comprehend, and remember the movie.”

There is little knowledge of how internal representations of complex narrative stimuli emerge with age, enabling us to comprehend predictable and naturalistic events in the world, such as the plot of a Hollywood film, despite the fact that many studies have examined changes in knowledge during development.

Because there are no models that can anticipate how the entire brain will react to these kinds of stimuli, analysing how the brain reacts to complicated stories or movies is difficult. Inter-subject correlation (ISC), which assesses the similarity of brain responses in a particular area of the brain among moviegoers, is an alternative, model-free method.

Children and young adults saw a brief video animation comprising both social and emotional learning, and the researchers used a sizable publicly accessible dataset of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans taken during that time.

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They assessed the ISC for kids in the same age range as one another as well as for kids of different ages for the youngest (5-8 years) and oldest (16-19 years) age groups.

They discovered that whereas brain reactions to the film are often constant across kids of the same age, as kids get older and become young adults, these reactions alter. Brain areas that track coarse narrative information are no longer employed to internally recognise events in stories; instead, those regions are now used to internally recognise sensory details and the mental states of the characters.

Comparing how children and adults notice and interpret the major events that make up a story is one technique to research how children and adults respond to tales.

Children and adults were asked to indicate in the tale where they thought there were significant scene shifts. Children as young as seven split up the plot in the same way that adults did, but older kids’ brains were better able to foresee what will happen next in a movie. Surprisingly, younger children responded more strongly to the story’s transitions between events in the hippocampus, a region crucial for memory formation. This might be because they are still developing their knowledge of how the world works.

According to a lead author Christopher Baldassano’s findings, “brain reactions to tales do not just get more synchronised among children as they develop, but rather alter in dynamics and timing to become more adult-like.

“Moreover, the study provides the groundwork for assessing how children acquire schematic knowledge about the world and learn how to deploy that knowledge at the appropriate time.”

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