The way the human brain utilizes its resources to complete tasks may differ from season to season, according to a new study.
Gilles Vandewalle, of the University of Liege in Belgium, said that in the new study the participants’ performance on the cognitive tasks they were given did not change each season, but their brain activity varied.
For the new study – published Monday (Feb. 8) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – the researchers analysed the cognitive brain function of twenty-eight individuals in Belgium during spring, summer, autumn, and winter. The study participants had to spend almost five days in a lab, without having access to seasonal factors, like daylight.
Each individual was given tasks to tests their ability to compare, update, and sore information, as well as to sustain attention. While the participants were performing those tasks, the researchers scanned their brains.
The results showed that, regardless of what season it was, the participants’ performance on the tasks was the same. However, the amount of brain activity involved in solving the cognitive tasks did in fact change, according to the researchers.
In June (near the summer solstice), the levels of brain activity involved in maintaining attention appeared to reach their highest point, compared with the month of December (around the winter solstice), when they were at their lowest.
Moreover, the highest levels of brain activity that had to do with working memory were observed in the autumn, compared with spring (specifically the spring equinox) when they were lower, the researchers found.
Other studies have also found links between people’s daily functioning and seasonal changes. For instance, a 2015 study (published in the journal Nature Communications) found that people’s immunity, as well as the activity of their genes, changes with every season. Another study found that people tend to consume fewer calories in the summer, and more in the winter.
These is also a connection between mood and season, a research has shown. In the fall and winter months, people tend to have symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). According to Vandewalle, individuals with seasonal affective disorder might be more susceptible to brain activity changes – related to cognitive processes – with each season.
It is possible that seasonal differences in brain activity occur because the levels of some brain proteins involved in learning, as well as the levels of neurotransmitters, like serotonin, also change each season, the researchers noted.
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