Our rapidly changing environment is profoundly altering our brains and minds.
What does it mean for the future of society? How can we manage the risks?
We explore and track the evolving brain and mind of humanity
Our rapidly evolving socio-technological and physical environment are resulting in both a decline in our mental wellbeing and an increasing divergence in our brain physiology. We are here to track and understand these trends and accelerate the path from data to insights to real-world action as a path to our mission to understand and enable the human mind.
We track evolving mental wellbeing across the globe through the Global Mind Project (previously the Mental Health Million Project), identify key socio-cultural factors that can lead to strategies to preventatively address the generational decline, and enable Organizations, Schools and Universities to measure and manage mental wellbeing through preventative strategies and appropriate resource allocation.
Centers for Human Brain and Mind
Our recently launched Centers for Human Brain and Mind bring together cross-disciplinary perspectives coupled with an unparalleled multi-dimensional human data acquisition infrastructure for global insights into how our socio-cultural, technological, nutrient and toxin environments impact our brain physiology and in turn our mental outcomes. Our first Centers are presently at Krea University in India and NM-AIST in Tanzania.
We take a cross disciplinary approach to understanding the influence of environment on brain and the relationship between brain and mental outcomes. Our research spans development of new tools for measurement, new approaches to signal processing and large-scale data acquisition and analytics.
Among female respondents who acquired their first smartphone at age 6, 74% had mental wellbeing scores that fell within a distressed or struggling MHQ range. This decreased to 61% for those who acquired their first smartphone at age 10, and 52% for those who acquired their first smartphone at age 15. For males, the trend was not as steep as for females, and MHQ scores were higher than their female counterparts for all ages of first smartphone acquisition.
While many mental health problems decrease with older age of first smartphone acquisition, the one that decreased most steeply and significantly across all regions for both females and males was Suicidal thoughts and intentions. Shown here are the major problems for females with age of first smartphone.
Where once young adults reported the best psychological wellbeing, primarily along dimensions of happiness and optimism, today they have a much darker mental wellbeing profile, substantially lower than every other age group across a multitude of dimensions.
In 2022, the percentage of 18-24 year olds who were Distressed or Struggling was three to five times higher than in the 55-64 age group across all regions of the world. For example, while only 10-12% of the 55-64 age group in Spanish-speaking Latin America and English-speaking South Asia were Distressed or Struggling in 2022, 45-50% were Distressed or Struggling among the 18-24 age group.
On average only 22% of young adults aged 18-24 are close to their families compared to 44% of the oldest generation aged 75+ - a two-fold difference. Conversely, 10% of 18-24 year olds do not get along with any of their family and prefer not to see them compared to only 3% of the oldest generation.
Globally, those who have a close relationship with many of their adult family have an average MHQ score of 102 with only 12% struggling with their mental health. In contrast, those who do not get along with their family have an average MHQ score of 33 with 44% distressed or struggling.
Globally, 75% of 75+ year olds said they had friends they could confide in and help them out. This declined with each younger generation such that only 64% of 18-24 year olds had friends that they could confide in, and only 51% had friends who would help them out, an even sharper decline.
Globally, MHQ scores were lowest for those who reported no close friends, with an average of 28, a score in the “Enduring” range, increasing to an average of 110, in the “Succeeding” range for those with 10+ close friends. Conversely, among those who reported having no close friends, 45% reported struggling with their mental health, four times greater than people with 10+ friends
Those who experienced childhood physical and sexual abuse or assault as well as cyberbullying had the worst mental wellbeing with negative average MHQ scores indicating 5+ clinical symptoms, far worse than the experience of the death of a parent or sibling.
These include Unwanted, strange or obsessive thoughts; Feelings of sadness, distress, or hopelessness; Suicidal thoughts; Mood swings; Guilt and self-blame; Confusion or slowed thinking, a Sense of being detached from reality; and Avoidance and withdrawal
Among English speaking countries, across all age groups the most prevalent obsession related to a “Relationship with one or more people that you know” (9.9%). This was followed by obsessions relating to “Something negative or bad that happened in your past” (9.0%) and “Possible disasters that could happen [in the future]” (7.1%). While the ordering of prevalence was similar for all age groups, in all cases, the prevalence was several times higher among the 18-24 age group.
Among the employed, those with high MHQ scores (Thriving) missed on average only 0.4 days of work per month while those with the lowest MHQ scores (Distressed) missed on average 11.5 days of work a month. When it comes to being present but being less productive – also called presenteeism – a similar picture emerges.
The brain ‘consumes’ stimulus that informs its wiring, development and behavior. Major things like education, transport and cell phones expand the scope and pace of stimulus the brain receives.
Complexity of the brain signal measured by EEG, or electrodes on the scalp, increases with aggregate consumption of these stimulus expanding factors. Complexity reflects the diversity of waveform patterns in the signal and may have significant cognitive consequences.
Read more in Nature Scientific Reports
There are many disparities in the brain signal between those with access and means to consume greater stimulus and those without. This shows the distribution of a feature of the brain signal called the Alpha oscillation between two extremes – those who are rural, less than primary educated and with no technology compared to those college-educated and digitally enabled.
The Alpha oscillation is thought to have a role in attention and mental imagery.
Read more in Nature Scientific Reports