Of Mice And Men And Chance: Cognititve Development And Fate

In the biological conception of nature and nurture, we tend to think that the dueling forces of genetics and environment shape and predict one’s personality. In a new study involving 40 genetically identical mice–all exposed to the same precisely controlled and measured environment–researchers are revealing the hidden importance of random chance on brain growth.

Writing on the New Yorker’s Elements blog, Gary Marcus explains the findings of the experiment:

Kempermann’s new mouse study shows that chance plays a role in cognitive development. For reasons as yet unknown, possibly having to do with intrauterine environments or randomness in the process by which individual genes are switched on, some mice became more active, others more passive; those that explored to a greater degree subsequently grew more neurons in their hippocampus. In an environment that rewards exploration, the more active mice would presumably thrive; with a simple follow-up it should be possible to prove that luck can mediate success in a carefully controlled environment.

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