Your brain operates differently depending on the time of year

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Winter gloom and springtime glee are common seasonal swings. But beyond swaying how you feel, yearly cycles may also shift the way you think, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Comparing the cognitive function of 28 volunteers tested at different points in the year, researchers noted pronounced seasonal patterns in brain region activity. Namely, areas involved in working memory hit peak performance around the autumn equinox, and areas dealing with sustained attention crested around the summer solstice. Though it’s still early in the research to understand the significance of possible annual mental oscillations, the study hints at a previously unappreciated seasonal rhythm of the human brain that could affect learning and behavior.

For the study, researchers led by Pierre Maquet and Gilles Vandewalle at the University of Liège in Belgium recruited 28 healthy volunteers, split evenly by gender and all around 21 years old. To rule out the influence of daily rhythms and environmental factors, the researchers prepared the volunteers for the study by having them stay in the lab for 4.5 days. During this time, participants endured a 42-hour sleep deprivation routine in a dimly lit sound-proof room with no time cues.

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