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Openness – a sense of curiosity, open-mindedness, and interest in new experiences – is critical to preserving cognitive function as we age. A new study has found that a tiny region in the brain called the locus coeruleus may provide the link between openness and better cognitive health. People with greater locus coeruleus integrity demonstrated more openness and – interestingly – had higher intelligence.

Researchers gave 135 young adults a battery of tests to gauge their openness and intelligence. Then, using an imaging technique called voxel-based morphometry, they measured the participants' locus coeruleus volumes.

They found that the participants with greater locus coeruleus volumes tended to have more openness and higher intelligence, regardless of age, gender, or total brain volume. Because locus coeruleus volume is associated with cognitive function, these findings suggest that activities that maintain locus coeruleus volume may be beneficial for preserving cognitive function.

The locus coeruleus is the primary region of the brain responsible for norepinephrine production. It is located in the pons and participates in the body’s response to stress, attention, emotion, motivation, decision-making, learning, and memory. Poor sleep has profound effects on locus coeruleus integrity and cognitive function. Learn more about the brain effects of poor sleep in this episode featuring Dr. Matt Walker.

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