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By Roger Highfield on

Unlock your cognitive potential by taking part in our study of behaviour and the brain

Science Director Roger Highfield invites you to take part in a major new study exploring the relationship between brain and body, to help push back the boundaries of neuroscience and discover more about how your own brain works.

Even though scientists have spent years studying the relationship between lifestyle and cognition, from exercise to video games, many questions remain over what impact the brain has on the body, and vice versa.

The brain and body have evolved together for millions of years and everyday life abounds with examples of how they affect each other, whether it’s the fuzzy headedness that results from sleeplessness, people who get ‘hangry’ if they don’t eat properly, how worry can cause tense muscles, or the breathing exercises that can calm the mind.

To shed new light on the connections between mind and body, as part of Manchester Science Festival in 2024, a leading team of neuroscientists has joined with the Science and Industry Museum, in creating an epic new international online study (you can take part and see how you perform here).

‘When we surveyed the literature, which includes many studies of studies (systematic reviews and meta-analyses), we were surprised that there were still so many lingering questions and controversies,’ commented Professor Adrian Owen of Western University, where the study has been devised with his team members Dr Conor Wild, Dr Loretta Norton and Sydni Paleczny, working with me and my colleagues at the Science Museum Group, of which the Science and Industry Museum is part.

Although the World Health Organization, among others, say that regular moderate-to-vigorous physical activity has ‘beneficial effects on cognition’ for many people, a more recent analysis concluded that, once study design and statistics are taken into account, the evidence is weak. ‘We were also surprised to find that there is often little agreement about what we mean by “cognition” in many of these studies of studies,’ added Prof Owen.

‘As a result, it remains unclear exactly what aspects of cognition are improved by exercise—if any at all.’

When it comes to the links between video game playing and cognitive performance, again the picture given by research is muddy: studies of studies give conflicting evidence for cognitive benefits associated with video gaming when it comes to older adults, for example.

That is where the new online survey devised by Owen’s team comes in, using a lifestyle survey and a well-established fun battery of cognitive tests that taps many aspects of cognitive function. Adrian and I first used these online tests in a mass experiment more than a decade ago, which led to the publication of a study in the journal Neuron and a revaluation of the meaning of IQ.

‘These tests are thorough and take around an hour but do take part’ said Owen. ‘You will help our science, get a report on how well you do, and have a chance to win an Amazon voucher worth CA$100.’

‘The Manchester Science Festival is one of the biggest in the UK and we are really excited by the thought of using this mass experiment to help shape the programme for 2024 and find out new things about how our brains affect our bodies, and our bodies our brains,’ said Sally MacDonald, Director of the Science and Industry Museum, which runs the festival.

That there is a profound connection between brain and body is not in doubt. A study published earlier this year found parts of the brain that control movement are plugged into networks involved in thinking and planning, for example.

We can’t wait to see where this research takes us and thank everyone who is willing to be part of it.