The Jennifer Aniston neuron

Though I spend a lot of time following brain news, I somehow missed this announcement when it first went around. Scientists have discovered a neuron that fires when a person sees pictures of Jennifer Aniston!

In brain surgery, patients are often kept fully conscious, even when they have a probe implanted in their heads. Brains don’t hurt when they’re open, and this is standard procedure; the doctor needs to map the area where there’s going to be surgery, the patient needs to answer the doctor’s questions.

Fried asked his patients if they wouldn’t mind doing a little exploratory science while on the operating table, and a bunch of them said yes.

So he showed them a set of photographs, and he noticed when they came to a picture of Jen, very often a particular neuron would begin to flash, multiple times. When he showed these same patients pictures of Julia Roberts or random (not famous) people, or animals, or places, the neuron was quiet. Back to Jen? Back came the flash. He found this Aniston-specific brain cell in a number of people, and he wondered, what is going on?

A “Halle Berry neuron” was also discovered. A book I’m reading, “Connectome” makes an interesting point about this discovery.

[The] “Halle Berry neuron” was activated by an image of the actress Halle Berry, suggesting that it plays a role in perceiving her. But the neuron was also activated by the written words Halle Berry, indicating that it participates in thinking about her as well. So it seems the “Halle Berry” neuron” represents the abstract idea of Halle Berry…

Mmmm, there’s nothing abstract about Halle Berry and you know what I mean!

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