Scientists Discovered Which Neurons Stimulate A Desire to Win

After a TED talk and her 2016 book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth brought a new concept into the mainstream: our level of success depends on our grit.

So when Chinese scientists at the Zhejiang University proclaimed they may have found “…a new biological basis for what people call ‘grit,'” many cognitive enhancement enthusiasts and biohackers took notice. Could we hack grit in the human brain?

According to a newly published study in Science Hailan Hu and her team of researchers have pinpointed the region of the brain associated with a desire to win. The small region is called the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC), which also happens to modulate altruism and consideration for the mental states of others.

The study focused on mice, which were split into two groups. In the first group, two mice moved through a narrow thin tube and met in the center. The dominant mouse pushed forward while the less dominant mouse moved backwards.

When researchers added a fiber optic cable, a virus, and switched manipulated the dmPFC, something different happened. When the two mice met in the tube, the less dominant mouse did not give-in and move backwards as hierarchy would expect. Instead, the mouse kept fighting.

In fact, stimulating the dmPFC in this particular way, 80 – 90% of the less dominant mice pushed out their opponents who they yielded to beforehand.

Of course, even avid biohackers and self-experimenters won’t want to drill holes in their heads to achieve greater grit, but there are still practical applications. Numerous studies using lasers to influence the brain later find pharmacological solutions (for example, Francisco Gonzalez-Lima’s work on near infrared light and methylene blue).

Another theory, straight from the community message boards, suggests that a specific type of meditation might be developed to target this region of the brain. If various meditation types alter different regions of the brain, why not target the dmPFC and win?

We may be years from any tangible human solution, but the more we know, the more we can tinker to enhance our cognitive performance, our grit, and ability to achieve.


Mansal Denton is the founder of Nootropedia on a quest to inform users on effectively utilizing nootropics and smart drugs. His work has been featured in Forbes, Inc, Entrepreneur, and Vice.