The Magnet in the Brainstorm of Birds

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Previously, we have discussed the presence and use of grid cells in lab rats and humans – these cells help us create a map of where we have been and where we are going. The brain keeps a pretty good record of this. However, this differs from the magnetic qualities of the brain cells of some birds. This study was conducted on pigeons and migratory birds who travel great distances, and then back again. Thousands of miles of day-and-night flying does not dilute the magnetism of the brains of these birds. Exactly how this brain magnet works has been a mystery for researchers for decades. However, recent cognitive discoveries have revealed details into how this happens.

The magnetism activity in the brain is a complex process, one that involves several separate but interconnected steps. The first step is for the bird’s brain to feel the magnetism from the earth. Next, it must be able to process this information into something useful, like creating a flight path. The bird’s brain is able to do this due to the enlarging of the hippocampus, a cognitive GPS system. When the brain diverts more energy to this area, the birds are able to correctly associate the magnetic fields of the earth, including the parameters of strength and direction.

Humans have this ability too, but it is relatively weak, unless they practice this skill. There is proof to show that people who work with directions and internal mapping (like taxi drivers) have larger hippocampus regions than normal people. While this does not mean that humans will start traveling long distances without their smartphone GPS apps, it does open up all kinds of possibilities for people to enhance parts of their brains. Being able to grow this brain GPS center means that people could instantly learn geographic places, instead of taking weeks or months to learn.