Stopping yourself from experiencing life could be inhibiting your personality and behavioral development. A recent study suggests that challenging your mind can lead to the healthy growth of brain cells.

The production of neurons in a region of the brain, called the hippocampus, that supports learning and memory is known as adult neurogenesis. The brain's propensity for balancing new ideas is heavily dependent on the proliferation of these new neurons.

Research was conducted by the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres with help from the DFG-Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden - Cluster of Excellence at the TU Dresden (CRTD), the Dresden site of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin (MPIB).

"The finding that behavior and experience contribute to differences between individuals has implications for debates in psychology, education science, biology, and medicine," stated Prof. Ulman Lindenberger, director of the Center for Lifespan Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development (MPIB) in Berlin.

"Our findings show that development itself contributes to differences in adult behavior. This is what many have assumed, but now there is direct neurobiological evidence in support of this claim. Our results suggest that experience influences the aging of the human mind."

Scientists observed the behavior of 40 identical mice enclosed in an environment that offered a range of activities to satisfy their curiosity. Test subjects were fitted with electromagnetic response operating systems to track individual movement and brain activity.

"The animals were not only genetically identical, they were also living in the same environment," explained principal investigator Gerd Kempermann, professor for genomics of regeneration at CRTD, and site speaker of the DZNE in Dresden.

"However, this environment was so rich that each mouse gathered its own individual experiences in it. Over time, the animals therefore increasingly differed in their realm of experience and behavior."

The research team's results showed that mice of similar genealogy left in identical surroundings were able to develop their own behavioral patterns. By the end of the three-month analysis, the mice had even begun to develop distinctive personalities.

"Adult neurogenesis also occurs in the hippocampus of humans, hence we assume that we have tracked down a neurobiological foundation for individuality that also applies to humans," said Kempermann.

"Though the animals shared the same life space, they increasingly differed in their activity levels. These differences were associated with differences in the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus, a region of the brain that supports learning and memory."

"Animals that explored the environment to a greater degree also grew more new neurons than animals that were more passive," he added.