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It's all in the brain for 'unemotional' engineers

THE ENGINEER'S brain is conditioned to 'suppress emotion', the audience was told at the Institution of Structural Engineers' biannual Maitland Lecture this week.

Professor Susan Greenfield of the Royal Institution, a world expert on the human brain, gave a crowd that included a number of ICE members a vivid account of how the mind constantly evolves throughout life. She explained how the calculating nature of engineering makes engineers the people they are.

The need to be 'dispassionate' in work might well also shed light on the perception that engineers are, to some degree, autistic (NCE 5 October).

Greenfield first took on the big question of how the brain works. She presented evidence that showed how the brain continues to grow throughout life, 'mirroring whatever you do' and, therefore, 'can only get better'.

'You are born with all your 100 million brain cells', she explained, but the connections between them 'grow as you grow', reaching 1,000,000 billion which reflect a lifetime's experiences.

However, it is not all good news. Just as the connections can grow, she warned, they can also die.

Dysfunctions such as senility are unfortunately out of our control, she said, but alcohol and drug use are not.

Accepting that the brain evolves with you, Greenfield concluded that 'the structural engineer's brain is as much the same as everyone else's as it is different to everyone else's'.

The view of engineering as a 'workshop for the socially challenged' may have some scientific basis she said, but 'the engineering profession doesn't have a monopoly on anti-social behaviour'.

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