If your colleague steals one of your ideas, don’t blame their ambition. Instead their paracingulate sulcus may be at fault.
Cambridge University scientists have pinpointed a part of the brain key to distinguishing truth from reality.
Those whose paracingulate sulcus is underdeveloped are more likely to claim others’ ideas as their own.
Research: Scientists examining the brain believe they have found the part of the brain that works out what’s real and what’s not
This could lead to them stealing the idea for a song or a book or simply growing to believe that the fantastical events in a story they heard in the pub had actually happened to them.
As they are unlikely to realise that there is anything wrong with their memory, any plagiarism will be completely unintentional.
The paracingulate sulcus is a deep fold in the brain’s structure that lies at the front of the scalp, just behind the forehead.
But in some people, the fold is hardly visible, and it is these men and women who are prone to appropriating others’ ideas and believing them to be their own.
After scrutinising thousands of brain scans, researcher Jon Simons picked 53 extreme cases of men and women whose paracingulate sulcus was particularly deep or shallow.
All were perfectly healthy and all believed their memory to be good. But the experiment proved otherwise.
They were given well-known word pairs like ‘Laurel and Hardy’ or given an incomplete pair such as ‘Laurel and ?’ and asked to imagine the missing word.
Then, they or the scientist was told to read the word pair aloud.
Later, the volunteers were given a memory test in which they tried to remember whether they had seen or imagined the second word of each pair.
They also had to remember who had read the words aloud.
The brain is in two halves and those whose paracingulate sulcus was poorly developed on both sides did significantly worse.
The findings, reported in the Journal of Neuroscience, suggest that those whose paracingulate sulcus is particularly underdeveloped find it harder to remember what has really happened.
This leads to them blurring the lines between real events and those they have imagined or been told about.
Researcher Dr Jon Simons said: ‘As all of those taking part were healthy adult volunteers with typical educational backgrounds and no reported history of cognitive difficulties, the memory differences we observed were quite striking.
‘It is exciting to think that these individual differences in ability might have a basis in simple brain folding variation.’
The same brain region may be involved in schizophrenia, in which imagined voices are thought to be real