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31.10.11

The Zombie Brain: Conclusions

This post is the final installment of our collaborative venture on exploring the Zombie Brain. We hope you’ve enjoyed the ride.

Sincerely, Bradley Voytek Ph.D. & Tim Verstynen Ph.D.


Bringing it all together: The Zombie Brain



Over the last ten days we’ve laid out our vision of the Zombie Brain. To recap, we’ve shown that zombies:

1) Have an over-active aggression circuit
2) Show cerebellar dysfunction
3) Suffer from long-term memory loss due to damage to the hippocampus
4) Present with global aphasia (i.e., can’t speak, can understand language)
5) Suffer from a variant of Capgras-Delusion
6) Have impaired pain perception
7) Cannot attend to more than one thing at a time
8) Exhibit addictive responses to eating flesh
9) Have an insatiable appetite

Together, these symptoms and their neurological roots reveal a striking picture of the zombie brain.

Based on the behavioral profile of the standard zombie, we conclude that the zombie brain would have massive atrophy of the “association areas” of the brain: i.e., those areas that are responsible for the higher-order cognitive functions. Given the clear cognitive and memory deficits, we would also expect significant portions of the frontal and parietal lobes, and nearly the entire temporal lobe, to exhibit massive degeneration. As such, the hippocampuses of both hemispheres would be massively atrophied (resulting in memory deficits), along with most of the cerebellum (resulting in a loss of coordinated movements).

In contrast, we would expect that large portions of the primary cortices would remain intact. Behavioral observations lead us to conclude that vision, most of somatosensation (i.e., touch), and hearing are likely unimpaired. We also hypothesize that gustation and olfaction would also remain largely unaffected. We must further conclude that large sections of the thalamus and midbrain, brainstem, and spinal cord are all likely functioning normally or are in a hyper-active state.

Putting these elements together, we have reconstructed a plausible model for what the zombie brain would look like.

Overlay (yellow is zombie, gray is human)


It is interesting to point out, from an historical standpoint, that many of the regions we hypothesize to be damaged in the zombie brain are part of what is generally referred to as the Papez circuit. James Papez first identified this circuit in 1936. Much like our current study, Papez was trying to unify a cluster of behavioral phenomena he had observed into a neuroanatomical model of the brain. He wondered why emotion and memory are so strongly linked. Thus, he hypothesized that emotional and memory brain regions must be tightly interconnected.

To test this theory, he injected the rabies virus into the brains of cats to watch how it spread and he made note of which brain regions were destroyed as a result of these injections. He observed that the hippocampus (important for memory formation) connects to the orbitofrontal cortex (social cognition and self-control), the hypothalamus (hunger regulation, among other things), the amygdala (emotional regulation), and so on. These experiments, conducted almost three-quarters of a century ago, may shed some insight into the nature of the zombie disorder today. We’re not suggesting that some super, brain-eating rabies virus is responsible for zombies. We’re just saying that it’s not not possible.

The profile of damage we have outlined corroborates the behavioral observations we have made from zombie films. From a subjective standpoint, this pattern of cerebral atrophy represents a most heinous form of injury unparalleled in the scientific literature. It would lead to a pattern of violence and social apathy; patients thus affected would represent a grievous harm to society, with little chance of rehabilitation. The only recommendation is immediate quarantine and isolation of the subject.

However, as we learned in GI Joe “knowing is half the battle.” Based on our observations, we leave you with a few strategies to maximize survival in the event of a zombie encounter.

1) Outrun them: Climb to a high point or some other place they will have trouble reaching. Practice parkour. The slow zombie variant can’t catch up with a healthy adult human.

2) Don’t fight them: They can’t feel pain and aren’t afraid of dying, so they’ve got the edge in close combat. If you can simply out run them, why risk the bite?

3) Keep quiet and wait: The zombie memory is so terrible that if you can hide long enough, it will mill around only until something else captures its attention.

4) Distraction, distraction, distraction: Throw something behind the zombie to capture its attention. Set off a flare, use a flashbang, or whatever you need to do to distract it to get away

5) If you can’t beat ‘me, join ‘em: If you can’t out run them (or are around the fast zombie variant) take advantage of their self-other delusion and act like one of them.

There you have it folks... scientifically validated safety tips for surviving the zombie apocalypse. Use them wisely the next time you come face-to-face with the living dead.