We hope you know Jennifer Aniston? Are you thinking of Smartwater, Rachel from “Friends,” and the phrase “we were on a break?” She’s that pretty Hollywood actress from “Friends,” “Horrible Bosses,” and ex-lover of Brad Pitt. Well, if you do know her, then a neuron in your brain just snapped in response to her name. As it turns out, research says you probably have a Jennifer Aniston neuron.
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The Grandmother Cell
In the 1960s, biologist Jerry Lettvin proposed the existence of a brain cell that was triggered in response to certain stimuli, say, when you hear your granny. Nearly half a century, these brain cells were dubbed “grandmother cells,” and were thought of as a complete fiction and was often used in the classroom just to ridicule the whole idea. But in 2005 (incidentally, just a year after “Friends” was released), a team of epilepsy researchers discovered what was the evidence of what Lettvin was advocating, after all.
The researchers were trying to find the region of the brain where epileptic seizures occur, but suddenly found a strange pattern in one of their participants. Whenever she saw a picture of Jennifer Aniston, a particular neuron fired in her brain. They even showed her the words “Jennifer Aniston,” and that neuron fired. They tried evoking Jennifer Aniston in several ways, and every time, that neuron fired. This eventually became inescapable: This individual had a special neuron that was linked with the concept of “Jennifer Aniston.”
Other participants showed signs of similar traits, but with different personalities. In one participant, they found a particular neuron linked with Bill Clinton, and in another, they found one for Halle Berry. Even if the actual individual was unrecognizable in the image, for instance, Bill Clinton dressed in a Ghanaian cloth, the participant’s brain reacted as if they’d recognized him — as long as they knew the person they were looking for.
More Than Celebrity Faces
Least we forget, we’re not suggesting that we are all born and prewired with a particular neuron that fires for the first time when we see Jennifer Aniston. The researchers believe that the Jennifer Aniston neuron they discovered might probably fire for other concepts they simply didn’t test for. And there are probably many other neurons that fire in connection with that neuron whenever she saw Jennifer Aniston. As we learn to recognize people, places, and things, our neural network has stored all that data by adapting a particular pattern of activity — and what’s more, its surprisingly easy to manipulate that pattern.
This Is All A Neural Network
In fact, this Jennifer Aniston neuron thing isn’t exactly true, if you’re thinking as such. The researchers also notice that it sometimes fired for Lisa Kudrow as well. What that means is that, the neuron was making associations. Lisa Kudrow made her think of Phoebe from “Friends,” which made her think of Rachel from “Friends,” which made her think of Jennifer Aniston. So they finally had to test it with new associations to find out how difficult it was for the neuron to do so.
This didn’t take that long. The researchers showed the woman several images of Jennifer Aniston at the Eiffel Tower, and eventually, a picture of the Eiffel Tower alone. This was enough to make that neuron fire again. The catch? Our brain making associations between two concepts is the underlying reasons why we have memories. You might even have a “Factionary” neuron, too.
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Mon, Aug 19, 2019.