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What Makes Individuals Unique? Researchers found a Link Between Experiences and New Brain Cells

Update Date: May 10, 2013 11:40 AM EDT

Although people can be quite similar to one another, there are no two people in the world who have the exact same personalities. Individuals all develop a combination of personality traits that are unique. Despite being able to observe differences in characteristics, researchers are more interested in how individuality forms biologically. In a new study conducted by German researchers from multiple research centers, the findings concluded that individuality is greatly influenced by different experiences and situations. These unique experiences contribute to the formation of new neurons in the brain, which contributes to personality changes and developments as people age.

Based from the understanding that identical twins have the same genetic makeup, the researchers wanted to discover why identical twins never completely resemble one another in terms of personalities even if they were brought up together under the same household and rules. The researchers gathered a group of forty genetically identical mice and placed them in the same environment. The environment, however, was designed with a wide range of activities that allowed each mouse to explore different options. In order to measure the mice's behaviors in the environment, the researchers implanted microchips that emitted electromagnetic signals. The researchers discovered that despite living under the same environment, the mice developed very different personalities and responded to stimuli differently as well.

"Though the animals shared the same life space, they increasingly differed in their activity levels. These differences were associated with differences in the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus, a region of the brain that supports learning and memory," said Gerd Kempermann, the study's lead investigator. "Animals that explored the environment to a greater degree also grew more new neurons than animals that were more passive." This study shows how experiences significantly contribute to individuality.

The research team was composed of scientists from the DFG-Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden - Cluster of Excellence at the TU Dresden (CRTD), the Dresden site of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development located in Berlin, Germany.

The study was published in Science

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