The Neuroscience of Individuality: How Changes in Brain Wiring Create Who We Really Are

What makes one person different than another? Many may say it’s a combination of genes and environment, but recent neuroscience shows that it’s more than just that.

In an interesting study published in Science, neuroscientists studied the brains of 40 mice who were genetically identical and grew up in the same exact environment.

They found that despite these genetic and environmental similarities, the mice each culminated their own individual experiences which contributed to underlying changes in their brain’s wiring.

Due to these unique experiences, each mouse developed different brain and behavioral patterns while interacting with their environment, and over the course of 3 months these differences continued to increase in size over time.

Specifically, they noticed significant changes develop in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

What does this mean?

First, there is a myth that learning stops once you are fully developed, as if once you hit a certain age then you are who you are, but increasing evidence in neuroscience supports the idea of adult neurogenesis, the continue building of new neurons and connections even into old age.

This means that our brains and personalities are constantly changing in the face of new experiences, as well as being increasing individualized.

In the study, each genetically identical mouse grew up in the same environment, but it was a rich and diverse environment that allowed each individual mouse to choose a different range of experiences within that environment.

The real world shape us in a similar way. Every individual experience influences who we are and who we become. So our lives aren’t solely dependent on just our genes and environment, but also our individual experiences and choices within those circumstances.

Maybe the true test of character isn’t how you were born or where you grew up, but how you respond to those circumstances as an individual. This study seems to support the idea that at least a good portion of our personality is up to us.

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