Einstein and His Mighty Corpus Callosum

Have you ever wondered why Albert Einstein was so dang smart? Thanks to researchers who recently published their results in the journal Brain, now we know:

Einstein was well-endowed.

That is, his corpus callosum was well-endowed. In fact, the researchers called this amazing part of his brain a “superhighway of connectivity” that helped the right brain and left brain communicate more smoothly, rapidly, and creatively than 99.9% of us can imagine.

Corpus ca-who? The corpus callosum is a bundle of white brain matter that essentially connects the brain’s hemispheres. It’s chock-full of neural fibers that carry electrical signals between the right and left sides.

(c) National Institutes of Health

(c) National Institutes of Health

What’s the difference between the left and right brain? According to the Alzheimer’s Association, we know that the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, and vice versa. We also know that for most of us, the area of the brain that deals with language is located on the left.

Pop psychology says that “left-brained” people are highly analytical while “right-brained” people are more creative. While this has been shown to be a myth (sorry, folks), what we do know is that people function a whole lot better when the left and right sides of the brain are working together harmoniously. We speak more articulately, we exhibit more accurate spatial skills, we function better in society, and we simply think at a higher level when our corpus callosum is doing its job.

The researchers looked at slides and images of Einstein’s brain (it was donated for scientific study upon his death) and found that his corpus callosum at age 76 was thicker in a high percentage of regions than the corpus collosi of 15 healthy older men. Furthermore, his corpus callosum was thicker in five key areas than those of 52 healthy younger men in their prime.

Why am I telling you this? First, it’s just fun to keep saying “corpus callosum” over and over again. Second, I can’t help but think in terms of Alzheimer’s risk factors. We know that Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by brain atrophy (in other words, as brain cells die off, the brain shrinks). If Einstein’s corpus callosum (there, I got to say it again) really was humongous, then this may have provided him with a buffer against degenerative disease. If he would have developed dementia, he had a lot more brain cells – and connections between them – to compensate for any accumulated damage.

There’s a third reason I decided to tell you about this. In case you read about Einstein’s “endowment” from another source, I didn’t want you to make the assumption that this was the only reason Einstein was so brilliant. Let’s give him some credit for his curiosity, liveliness, spirit, and heart. All of these elements combined to make Einstein the person he was.

So don’t fret if your corpus callosum doesn’t measure up. Clearly, size isn’t the only thing that matters.

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