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Psychologists are seeing double!

5 May 2004

Psychologists are seeing double!

AN EXCITING new research project at Aston University could show that every person has their own unique brain 'fingerprint'. The research, led by Dr Joel Talcott (senior lecturer in Psychology) and funded by a grant from The British Academy, will examine genetic and environmental influences on human brain function using Aston's unique resource of combined MEG and MRI brain scanners.

The research will test the idea that every person has their own characteristic profile of brain activity - whether resulting directly from a stimulus or more generally in terms of attention and memory functions. Using a combination of MRI (which shows which parts of the brain are active) and MEG (which shows exactly when activity is taking place in the brain), scientists will compare neural responses across two types of twin. Individual differences in their cognitive 'fingerprints' may be due to genetic or environmental influences and the Aston team hope to be able to begin to uncover how this process might work.

There are two types of twin: monozygotic (genetically identical twins which are the result of a single fertilised egg splitting into two to make two individuals) and dizygotic (where two different eggs are fertilised by different sperm and the people are non-identical). By comparing the results of identical and non-identical twins the Aston team hope to pinpoint the extent to which particular types of brain function may be genetically inherited or environmentally influenced.

Dr Talcott explains: 'We will measure the differences in neural activity between twin types ... if an aspect of brain function is 100% heritable, the results for identical twins will not vary substantially from one another but the same measures in non-identical twins are expected to differ. We want to begin to determine which aspects of human neural function are inherited and which functions are influenced more by environmental factors.'

The researchers are looking for 24 adult twin pairs (12 identical and 12 non-identical) who will be recruited from the midlands region. Participants will have both MRI and MEG scans (followed by another MEG scan after six months) and a standard intelligence test. Both types of scan are completely non-invasive and safe. Travel costs incurred by research participants will be reimbursed.

If you and your twin would like to help with the research you can contact Dr Talcott by telephone on 0121 204 3000, by email j.b.talcott@aston.ac.uk, or through the university web site at www.aston.ac.uk

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For further information please call 0121 204 4549 or email: b.a.l.coombes@aston.ac.uk

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