The study of the living brain has become possible thanks to the development of computer technology. SPECT, micro-mapping and transcranial magnetic stimulation techniques allow you to see what is happening in the human brain directly in the process of thinking.
Prefrontal cortex and interhemispheric asymmetry
Research has shown that thought processes take place in the prefrontal cortex, located in the front of the brain. This is where our ability to analyze the past and plan for the future, to control our behavior and solve problems, to set goals and be aware of how we feel and why, is localized. Logical analysis, planning, and critical thinking are carried out in the dorsolateral zone of the PC. If emotions are involved in the thinking process, the interior-orbital zone, located at eye level and directly connected with the limbic system, is activated, where our emotions and attachments are formed.
Thought is born as an electrical impulse in a single neuron or a group of neurons. The excitation then propagates along the axons of the connected neurons through the synapses. The direction and localization of the neural pathway depend on the subject of the thought process and are consistent with the principle of interhemispheric asymmetry. So, in verbal thinking, when you "think in words", make a to-do list or prepare a speech for a presentation, the greatest activity is observed in the left hemisphere, where, statistically, the centers of language and speech are most often located.
When you visualize an object of thought, whether it is a real memory or a figment of the imagination, the neural structures of the right hemisphere, our "built-in art gallery", are activated. Here, in the right hemisphere, the mystery of the creative process takes place, here the heroes of our stories and plots for pictures are born.
Neurotransmitters, attention and falling in love
Thinking about a problem, solving a problem, you try to focus. At the same time, the basal nuclei are activated - the deep structures of the central part of the brain that are responsible for attention and concentration. The cells of the substantia nigra of the basal ganglia synthesize the neurotransmitter dopamine, which has an inhibitory effect on perceptual structures, "muffling" distracting stimuli from the outside or from internal organs. Dopamine is also involved in the brain's reward system, which makes you feel satisfied or happy when you find a solution.
When you think about the object of affection, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland release oxytocin, which helps to consolidate the image of a loved one and associated associations. At the same time, according to the laws of neuroplasticity, the corresponding neurocards increase in size, occupying an ever larger area in the cerebral cortex, and actively differentiate. On a conscious level, we perceive this as a detailing of the experience of a relationship, when we are able to remember literally every minute spent together and appreciate the smallest nuances of the behavior and habits of a loved one.
Decision making and mental jogging
Neuroplastic changes in the brain do not happen on an ad-hoc basis. This process is non-stop and merciless. According to neurophysiologist Michael Merzenich, a neuromap created today is no longer valid tomorrow. This means that in the process of thinking, existing neural connections are continuously strengthened, new ones are created, unused ones weaken and disappear. For example, when you are frantically looking for a solution to a problem, calculating possible options, a real electric storm is raging in your brain at this time, intense intercellular and intracellular biochemical changes occur, hundreds of new connections between neurons are formed and disappear.When a decision is made, and you have chosen one option out of many, only those connections that are responsible for this particular option remain "alive". And the more you think about your decision, the stronger the new neural pathways become due to the formation of additional axons.
In the process of thinking, in addition to the prefrontal cortex, the visual and motor cortex of the brain are also involved. The neurons of these zones are activated when you visualize various objects or yourself in motion. For the brain, it makes no difference whether you are running along a path or just in your imagination, the SPECT scanner will still record the excitation in the neurons of the corresponding parts of the motor cortex.