The Utility of the Connectome

As a new-comer to the world of neuropsychology I was surprised to see the number of fields which work directly with neuropsychology. There is a perfect illustration of this in the textbook being used in PS233 Biological Basis of Behavior this semester– The Mind’s Machine- Foundations of Brain and Behavior (Watson & Breedlove, 2012) which lists a range of areas of study from anthropology and evolutionary biology to computer science and psychiatry and demonstrates how they relate right back to biological psychology.

In discussing the introduction of Sebastian Seung’s book Connectome and his TEDTalk, the influence of ethics and philosophy was impossible to ignore. But it became clear to me that the connectome itself is also multifaceted. There seems to be a multitude of  directions in which the connectome and the future knowledge we gain about the connectome will become increasingly important. Seung mentioned memories as well as learning about various disorders as two large areas of interest concerning connectomes. It is clear that the properties of the connectome also play a role in many other areas of the human experience.

Over JanPlan I took in a class centered around Behavioral Medicine. The professor of this class–a clinical psychologist from the Waterville area, Dr. Ferguson–seamlessly demonstrated the connection between psychology and biology. While reading the introduction of Connectome and watching Seung discuss his concept I couldn’t help but think back to my JanPlan class. We spent some time discussing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and it seems to me that the connectome would play an integral part in the success of this and similar treatment approaches.

In discussing CBT, Dr. Ferguson spoke of the importance of strengthening the mental pathways of more adaptive thought patterns, rather than reinforcing the maladaptive thinking patterns that clients describe to him. These pathways are part of the connectome. As soon as more is known about the connectome we will better understand how to mold it. While reading the introduction of Connectome and considering  the importance of strengthening adaptive pathways for CBT I started to wonder about the strength of the connectome and if in mapping the connectome researchers will be able to also shed light on the relative strength of specific connections within the connectome. Also, if researchers are able to mold the connectome, CBT and other treatments will become more simple if not entirely obsolete.

The connectome’s potential application to treatment approaches is just one interesting implication that Seung’s vision brings to light. I am interested to see what other implications of mapping connectomes come with the addition of more knowledge to this area of research.

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