Work shapes our brain

Work shapes our brain

The skills that human beings develop throughout their lives and the jobs they do modify certain characteristics and the structure of the brain. These changes, which are made possible by the brain’s plasticity, can be observed on MRI at the level of neural networks and the connections between synapses.

This is how medical imaging specialists have been able to determine that, for example, perfumers develop the part of the brain that acts on olfaction and on communication between these regions and those of memory. This adaptation then allows him to create fragrances by simply imagining them.

For the profession of an interpreter, the brain regions that develop are those of language recognition, speech formulation, memory, and attention. Practice and experience allow us to automate these relationships and thus move from one language to another in a natural way.

In more dangerous jobs such as police or military, we may be faced with a situation that causes fear, such as an attack, the amygdala of our brain is activated. This small structure prepares us to react to danger. When people are anxious, when they feel distress about the future, they automatically try to make sense of the situation,” says Jan-Willem van Prooijen*.

Other jobs, such as cab drivers, develop the part of the hippocampus responsible for memorization and spatial navigation, while athletes develop both the area of the brain responsible for positioning in space and also benefit from neurological changes related to intensive training.

If mimicry and the adoption of the same codes can be observed in an individual according to the occupation he or she occupies, this assimilation is also reflected in the brain as learning and experience are stored. Each of us would thus be both the head and the brain of the job he occupies.

* Dr. Jan-Willem van Prooijen received his Ph.D. from Leiden University in 2002, and currently works as an Associate Professor at the Department of Experimental and Applied Psychology of VU Amsterdam, and as a Senior Researcher at the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR).

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